Friday, December 28, 2012

All the pretty ponies

It is a good thing I do not own a big hunk of land somewhere and am not independently wealthy. Or maybe it's not a good thing because if I did, it would be filled with so many Off-Track Thoroughbreds I could barely keep them straight.

And keeping them straight, learning each different horse and each fantastic personality, makes my days happy and full.

Of course, a certain brown OTTB would like to remind me who exactly I belong to--him, the great and wondrous Calabar and only to Calabar.

But there is Dixie (Ur My Dixie Girl), a sweet and dainty mare who is a complete stall piggy and is unfortunately stuck in said stall for another two months or so while she heals up from a hairline condylar fracture. She needs attention and mini-walks and acupressure to help combat tension from the confinement. She is adorable and quite playful. She even attempted to help with the stall cleaning tonight by bouncing the shovel handle for Katie. Too dark for a video, but there were tears of laughter at her antics.

Dixie looking at the arena: "What kind of track is that?"
And there is Cash (Cottonwood Cash), quite possibly the most mellow OTTB I've ever met. He is amazing. Doesn't spook, doesn't bit or nip, NO vices. Really. He is sweet, trusting and snuggly. Just don't try to put him in a stall. He doesn't freak out, he doesn't jig. He just flat out refuses with this look in his eye that says if you force it, bad things will happen. BAD things. But he thinks I am awesome because I just happened to be there when the farrier found the abscess in his front foot and then when the vet found the next one in his back foot. "It's a coincidence," I tell him. "But it doesn't hurt any more, so yay and thank you!" says the cute baby bay horse.

Christmas Cash--yes, he wears costumes well, too.
So.. yes. My time has been taken up with these two very lovely and very different horses. Cash never raced, not once. Dixie raced several times and was fairly successful. And yet both have been handled well and are trusting of people in general.

They are teaching me things that will give me insight into my own horse, have already given me insight into my own horse. This is good. Getting back in the saddle after all the holiday nonsense will also be good. Better in fact. Right, Calabar?

"Yes, more time with me, the #1 OTTB in your life, is crucial."
I love all the things these very different horses are teaching me. Thoroughbreds, particularly Off-Track Thoroughbreds, are not easy and they are certainly not all alike. But they do share something that engages me from the very first second--a life force, an energy, a presence. " What's next? What are you doing? How does it involve me?" In all honesty, they remind me of the cow horses I have met (and the cow horse I own) in the way they draw me in with their very being, their sensitivity, interest and attention to the world around them.

And what they give back when you reach out to them is nothing less than a gift.

Thank you to all the pretty ponies in my life for the gifts you bestow. Yes, that includes the messy stalls and the duct tape boots.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Is it really almost Christmas?

When I was a child, far back in the mists of time, it seemed like a year took forever. For. Ev. Er. Now I've barely put the ornaments away and it seems as if it's time to hang the stockings again.

Has time really sped up or is it merely that a year is a much smaller fraction of my total time on this planet than it used to be?

I do not mind aging, in fact I quite like who I am now--even with a few more wrinkles, bumps and bruises.You could not pay me enough to go back to my 30s, let alone my 20s. Yuck. And yet it would be nice to recapture that slowness of time, those long days of summer when camping in the backyard was an adventure and my dad mowed the lawn with an old-fashioned push mower. In his cutoffs. Singing "If You Think I'm Sexy," by Rod Stewart. (It only warped me a little.)

My wish for myself would be to stop zipping from one thing to another all day, every day, and just for a minute remember that molasses-slow time.

Notice the wrinkly nose--detail and beauty while grass snatching
And what does that have to do with horses? Well, nearly everything. Taking time for each one in my care--stopping to really see them--gives me that contraction in time when all you can hear is their breathing, all you can smell is their rich, warm skin, all you can see is yourself in their eyes.

And then time catches up and you're late for dinner, but such is life. And a good life it is.

Our not-so-professional Christmas Card
In case I don't get back to the blog again before Christmas (or possibly even before the New Year), here is to all of the others out there who love their horses, love other people's horses, and wonder how they will ever find enough time in the day to enjoy it all. Happy Holidays and Merry New Year to you all!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Happy anniversary to Calabar and me

Five years ago, we got stuck in the mud picking up the horse that has changed my whole life. He's broken a few things along the way--reins, trailer ties, me--but he has also taught me so much about horses, life and my own sweet self it has all been worth it. Every last bump and bruise.

Yep. Big, gooey smooch from the fuzzy brown mirror
I still don't know exactly where we are headed together. Do I want to show? I'm not sure. Do I want to do what it takes to maybe show? Yes, because it will be good to work through it with him, both of us learning, both of us pushing gently against new boundaries.

There have been many blog posts here about the journey he and I have been on, but it always comes back to the fact that we are on it together and have learned to rely on each other--some might say finally--in a way that gets us through each step.

And now it's time to go see my big brown horse and let him roll in the arena to get all the under-blanket itchiness properly scratched. Then maybe a little work with our new dressage reins!

Happy anniversary, big brown mirror! Thank you for the smooches, the bruises and everything in between!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Holiday giving

The holidays are a 50-50 proposal for me. I love giving gifts, but hate shopping and particularly hate shopping at this time of the year. The mere thought of fighting crowds to do something I dislike is enough to give me a stomach ache and the shakes. However, my mission over the last few years has been to do much of my shopping locally instead of online, so brave the crowds I must. Someday. Maybe even soon.

I have friends who shop all year for the holidays, but my problem is that if I buy someone a gift, I want to give it to them then, not hold onto it for months and months and months.

Such is the dilemma I face every year and it has given me great insight into my father's habit--the annual mad-Christmas-Eve-dash. Aha. Now I get it.

Of course, the problem is compounded by those who want to give me gifts. "What do you want?" "Um, I don't know?" In all honesty, I'm a lucky gal and don't need a lot more in my life than the wonderful gifts I already have. As a friend--the lovely and more fashionable than I will ever be Jessica Junk--pointed out on her blog Fourteen Carrots, there are plenty of deserving charities out there that can use help more than I need a new widget.

So if you can't figure out what to get me, if you're just not sure that sweater will match my eyes, donate to Neigh Savers on my behalf. It's easy. Just click right here and then click on the big, yellow "Donate" button.

Happy holidays from Dublin!
Dublin and all the other horses we've helped this year will send you a big NEIGH of thanks for your generosity and for not compounding the retail madness.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Clipping and braiding?

There is this whole mysterious world of horse show etiquette and preparation just beginning to surface. What are afterthoughts to those who have braved the arenas with their ponies year after year are things that I have never considered doing to my faithful steed. Things like clipping his soft, fuzzy ears. Or trimming short (let alone braiding) his mane.

Calabar is an outdoor horse. His coat gets fuzzy in the winter, gets burnished and reddish as the weather warms up, then slicks out to seal brown in the summer. I have never trimmed his ears or the whiskers on his muzzle and might have only used scissors once on his bridle path before deciding to just let it grow out. (There was a brief mohawk phase in between that was particularly adorable.)

I like his ears fuzzy. I grab them and blow into them frequently, making silly sounds into the soft brown hairs. He tolerates this with much patience and even seems to like it a little bit. And since he's an outdoor horse, doesn't he need the hairs for fly protection? Would I have to consider one of those crocheted hats for him if I fully trimmed those beautiful furry ears?

This kind of dress up we can do
Then there is the mane, which has been growing for years since he left the track. His mane and tail get a little bleached out and dry--outdoor horse, remember--and I don't always get to the deep conditioning routine that would help that. I see the fancy show horses with their short, evenly trimmed manes and beautifully braided manes setting off arched necks and I say, "Well, that looks pretty sharp."

What I am not sure I can see is me doing that or Calabar tolerating it. I could be wrong. He does have a Diva streak a mile wide and will not only let you brush out his mane and tail, but knows exactly what you're saying when you tell him how handsome he is. If you need proof of this, point a camera at him and watch the posing begin.

A handsome face needs no de-fuzzing, right?
Now how important is this whole trimming clipping and braiding thing? I really have no idea. To me, if I decide to show, it won't be about appearances (even if we do brave a showmanship class), it will be about the journey to the show ring itself and what we do there. Would I like ribbons? Sure. Will I be disappointed if we have a good ride but don't get a ribbon because my horse's ears are too fuzzy? Not so much.

The Diva himself might have a different opinion, but that is a bridge to cross when we get there. Fuzzy ears and all.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A little luck, a lot of thanks, maybe some dancing

There is much in my life that is good and I am so very thankful for all of it--so much bounty, too much to list out without sounding like I'm bragging about what are truly blessings. One of those blessings is still having my friend Devon on the planet to remind me to get back on the horse. Which she has done. Frequently. No whining allowed, Jess.

Little Devon, Big Miz
Devon goes home from the hospital today to continue her recovery from what could have been a much more catastrophic injury and is herself determined to do what it takes to get back on horses somehow, someway--even it if takes awhile to get there.

Miz surveying the track at Santa Rosa this summer
In the meantime, her horse Milazzo is racing on Saturday. Devon is hoping to get to the track to watch, but there are inherent challenges with that at the moment. Miz has won a couple races and placed in a few more. He has speed and stamina and eats up track with his huge stride. He loves to run. Seriously. He finishes a mile-long (or more) race and comes cantering back looking like he could do it all over again--ears up, long legs loose and swinging. He won't have his Devon there with him for at least a little while, so if any of you want to send your good energy to a big, goofy racehorse on Saturday, I know Devon would appreciate it. Eighth race. Big (17+ hands) brown horse with a white blaze and a gap between his front teeth. You can't miss him.

I am thankful Devon can at very least watch the races from home, even if she can't be there to cheer him on in person. I'm pretty sure a good race where Miz runs well and comes home healthy will make her feel even better. A win? Well, that might give her enough energy to get up and dance a few steps.

Let's hope she gets to dance, shall we?

Monday, November 19, 2012

What to wear

As we begin to contemplate showing, it occurs to me there are wardrobe issues to consider--mine and Calabar's. How much does it all matter at the super-duper beginner level? Can I show in the English Pleasure classes with my dressage saddle? What do I NEED to actually look the part in either English Pleasure or dressage? Do I have to pull and/or braid Calabar's mane? (Like I have any idea whatsoever how to do that.)

Calabar tolerates a lot just because he is my pony
I realize that I'm way ahead of myself here. We have a lot of work to do to even begin to be ready and worrying about what to wear (or what not to wear) is a trivial thing compared to actually being able to ride in the ring with other horses (or alone) and not have a major meltdown.

Not to mention that before we even get to the schooling shows we need to do prior to the journey down south to the BIG show, we have to introduce just a few key things to the big brown horse. Things Sparky and Amelia and Ellen have all helped us work on like moving forward into contact, engaging the hind end and connecting it to the front end--just minor concepts.

The good news is we are actually progressing on that piece of this puzzle. Calabar is responding nicely to wiggling ring fingers and acknowledging that the reins actually have some relation to his hind feet. Our walk-trot transitions are continuing to smooth out and he very nearly automatically drops his head into the right place at the walk and we are getting there at the trot. I think it must feel better to him because he is responding so well. I know he feels better to ride most of the time, too, and I get moments in time where I can feel that big hind end coming into play.

Best of all, we are both trying and we are both learning. At the end of each ride, I can laugh and hug him and tell him he's a good boy and he knows he's done a good job. So even if we're not perfect, even if we have a a long ways to go to even be remotely show-worthy, we are having a good time and enjoying each other.

That right there makes plotting for the show worth it--even if we never get there and I never actually have to worry about what we're wearing.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Thoroughbred Classic Horse Show here we come?

Spotty Horse News started as a blog about our spotty horse, Lena, and the adventures three people could have with one horse. Lena led to Calabar, a not-spotty off-track Thoroughbred and Calabar and I have had our own stories to tell. There is rumor our journey is really just beginning and may lead us all the way to Southern California next April for the Thoroughbred Classic Horse Show series.

The day of many dances
I will be down there anyway because I am lucky enough to be part of the team putting the show together, but this little voice kept nudging me to think about actually participating with Calabar. Even after the play day Halloween costume debacle. Honestly, this terrifies me enough to cause unrest in the middle of the night. "Am I crazy? There is so much that could go so very wrong with this. PEOPLE WILL LAUGH AT ME!"

Deep. Breath.

And one more just for good measure.

The funny thing is I never really wanted to show. I'm actually still not sure I do, but I very much want to improve the world for ex-racehorses and part of the way to do that is demonstrate their suitability for careers other than racing and improve their after-market value. Do Calabar and I need to be there for that? Not really. There will be plenty of good riders and well-trained horses to do that job better than we could in a lot of ways. Not to mention there is the logistical hurdle of trying to help run the show while making sure my own horse is well-tended and we are both properly attired and psychologically ready for our grand debut.

So what could we offer if we were brave enough to do this? Besides a much-needed sense of humor about all things, I'd like to think Bar and I are an example of the heart of the matter, the true point of it all--the relationship you build with a horse as you work towards a goal. An example of someone willing to try--even though they aren't the best rider and don't have aspirations of Grand Prix level riding--and willing to try with a horse off the track. Maybe even an example of horsemanship, of taking the time it takes to be a team regardless of whether you win or lose.

I guess it depends on what you want out of showing. It's not that I don't want ribbons, ribbons would be great and I'm pretty sure Calabar would like lots of them. The true prize would be walking the road to the show ring with him, learning all we can from each other along the way.

That's my own goal. Plenty of people have been very successful showing Off-Track Thoroughbreds. We even met a lot of them while we talking aftercare at Breeders' Cup--people who have been showing a long time and remember when the show rings used to be filled with Off-Track Thoroughbreds and people who took horses from the track and turned them into show horses. I know what the Thoroughbred fans say--how the warmbloods and European horses have come to dominate the show ring and the reasons that's the case--but it seems that there is still a place for OTTBs in the show world.

Even for beginners. And maybe, just maybe, that's what Calabar and I bring to the table--that there is room for rookies here and it can be fun.

Now if I can just figure out those pesky logistics--how to be in two (or three or four) places at once--we might have a plan.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Spotty dressage lessons

At Breeders' Cup, I was surrounded by sleek Thoroughbreds of many colors but without spots of any kind. However, I managed to squeeze in a dressage lesson and not on a big, bay Thoroughbred or fancy warmblood, no--Sparky has spots. Meanwhile, the spotty horse was at home getting a dressage lesson of her own.

Duck footed dressage on a spotty pony
Lucky for Lena, her rider knows how to not have duck feet. Lucky for me, Sparky forgives duck feet. And doesn't my pretty, spotty mare look lovely? Yes, yes she does.

Lena and Allie listening to Ellen
There is a lot to remember with dressage and it is painfully obvious that I have a ways to go. At my last clinic with Ellen, Calabar was introduced to his hind end. "My what?" he said. Since then, we have worked a lot on that and on circles and bending to teach him to use that big round butt of his. Amelia--who actually knows and has worked with Ellen--had Sparky show me where we were headed and that is helping me connect some dots.

Oh you and your duck feet, says Sparky
Ellen will be back in January and March. I am planning on Calabar and me being enough further along to keep this interesting for us all. Sparky helped a lot and it did actually translate when I introduced what I learned to Calabar. The key with Bar--as with most horses--is to recognize the try and give the release as soon as I felt it. Being able to do so limits the irritation factor and increases the responsiveness factor--equally important when it comes to learning--but it's not always easy.

The other key take away, besides recognizing the try? Slapping my own thigh with the dressage whip makes the end of the dressage whip hit (gently) the horse's hip. My lack of coordination and unfamiliarity with aids made me feel quite bumbling with the dressage whip so that one tiny piece of information made that little piece of anxiety go away. There are many other pieces of anxiety, of course, but that bit no longer keeps me awake at night.

p.s. Spotty horses can make great dressage instructors. Many thanks to Sparky!

Friday, November 09, 2012

Not just the races--that was an event

As I said before I went, I have been to the races before--Golden Gate Fields and the local fairs--but nothing comes close to what swirled around me last weekend at Santa Anita.

Breeders' Cup is so far beyond that and it took my breath away with the level of competition, the celebrity and the pageantry.

It was an EVENT with bells, whistles and lots of color.

Aside from the excitement of seeing up close and personal horses normally viewed on television, Santa Anita was a live place--full of people from all over who love the sport of racing. And not just the sport, the horses--the gleaming athletes snorting, prancing, dancing their way to the starting gate.

We were there to talk aftercare with race fans, not just to absorb the energy, and talk we did. In fact, we were told over and over again how glad people were to see us there, how good it was to see the track supporting us.

We met lots of people who love their current and ex-racehorses and we even had our very own equine spokes-model, Lenny. Lenny was not sure why all the other horses were parading without him, but he got lots of attention and admiration even if he wasn't racing.

Pictures speak louder than words, so enjoy just a few of the over 500 shots I took over the weekend.

Wise Dan wins the turf mile
Karen, Devon and Jess at the booth
Jess and Lenny the spokes-horse

Trinniberg, another winner

Mizdirection after her win--against the boyz!

Spotty horse on the track! Gotta love the outriders.
I am already planning  next years' trip.

Brave and strong

My friend Devon rides racehorses. Not off-the track, retired racehorses--on the track, fit, healthy, strong and FAST racehorses. She is very strong, though tiny, and braver than I am by a long shot. She will be drawing on all of that to heal from a very scary accident, but those of us who know and love her have great faith in her to do just that.

Devon and her Milazzo
There is inherent risk in this profession but Devon is a good rider and takes her safety very seriously so had managed to stay healthy and sound herself for quite awhile. Unfortunately, this job has a "when not if" component to it and her when happened Sunday morning--the day after she got back from our Breeders' Cup adventures.

Aside from starting an hour earlier than she intended (her phone didn't automatically sync to the time change), the day began fairly normally. She was working a horse for another trainer and had been ponied out to the pole. She felt the saddle slip as the outrider let her go, "Uh Oh." She tried to correct but got bumped again and the saddle slipped further.

At this point, traveling astride a galloping racehorse, she felt she only had one option--bail. It was either that or risk sliding under said galloping racehorse, so bail she did and hit the track. Hard. She must have rolled and bounced some because her helmet ended up in the ditch and her injuries are on both sides.

She couldn't move after she hit and lay still on the track. Luckily, the same pony rider was able to stop the other horses working behind her so she wasn't in more danger. It was probably good she couldn't move, if terrifying, as it prevented any additional damage to her neck and spine. It is also a silver lining that it happened on the track since they are well-equipped to handle and stabilize just this type of situation.

It sounds odd to say, but even with a fractured neck and chip off her pelvis, Devon considers herself very lucky. She has feeling and mobility in all her limbs--though her right hand and arm are not 100% yet--and is starting physical therapy and rehabilitation today. She had no head injury, despite losing her helmet, and because she was fit to begin with has a good basis to build on.

It won't be easy--she is having problems standing and balancing, let alone walking--but she is determined and strong. She also has a positive attitude and a lot of love headed her direction, all of which will help the healing process.

Devon on the backside at Santa Anita during Breeders' Cup the day before her accident
Her birthday is Sunday and her horse is running. She will have to miss it, but she is here to watch the replays and have birthday cake. Her friends are all very glad that's the case. So is her pony, even if he doesn't know it yet.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Going to the Big Races

I've spent plenty of time at Golden Gate Fields and I always love my trips to the backside with Devon, watching people who love racing and their horses do all the work necessary to keep those horses happy and healthy. And Golden Gate Fields is fun for me, as is the Santa Rosa Fair, because names and horses are familiar to me.

But I am headed down to the big time tomorrow morning--Breeders' Cup. Santa Anita, where statues of Seabiscuit and Zenyatta are on display and big hats are par for the course. I do not happen to have a big hat but am very excited to get down and see statues of those two famous horses. Katie made me promise not to get arrested for climbing on them. I will try to comply. Really. Meeting some real ponies is also on my list and one of my favorites is supposed to be down there--Lava Man!

Why am I headed down to the craziness of Breeders' Cup? I mean, aside from the sheer joy of being surrounded by other people who love the warm smell of horse and the excitement of watching horses run?

I will be networking with race fans and talking to the public about Neigh Savers and all the wonderful things aftercare organizations do to help racing Thoroughbreds transition to new careers. I will also be trying not to come home with any more dark brown racehorses, though they are my favorites by far.

So if you don't hear a lot from me over the next few days, that's good--it means I'm talking to lots of people and sharing the Thoroughbred love.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Halloween Play Day

Calabar, Lena, Allie and I went to a play day on Sunday and  while it wasn't a day of perfectly behaved ponies, we all had fun and we all learned a few things. Calabar may have learned more than the rest of us and it's a minor miracle he is still speaking to me. Especially after the glitter.

"There is glitter. On my butt. Really, Mom?"
Calabar learned that sheep exist, along with hot air balloons and elaborate costuming options. Lena learned that it is unlikely that flags will eat you despite what you might think. I learned I can ride a wild horse and stay on and Allie, well, Allie hopefully learned something beyond the fact that I get lost on outings.

Allie and her cow pony princess.
My main goal was to get Calabar out and try this new thing but make it as positive an experience for both of us as was possible. There were some moments I wasn't sure that outcome would actually transpire, but we all made it through despite some very interesting challenges.

Things started mildly enough, with us pulling in and parking at the arena and beginning to groom the horses as they munched. Calabar did notice many things--multiple horses and trailers, music coming from the announcers booth, announcing coming from the announcers booth. These are things that may cause a little sense of deja-vu as they are reminiscent of the track. Lena was mostly concerned with her hay. Actually, she was more interested in Calabar's hay, just to annoy him.

We went into the arena to warm up, keeping the two horses together at first but gradually separating them as they both calmed down. Calabar and I sauntered through the poles a few times and he watched other horses do it faster with mild curiosity, possibly a little anxiety. I sang to him. I talked to him, noting odd things around us. "Yes, that's a blow up Frankenstein over by the snack bar."

At the end of the arena, he suddenly caught sight of both a hot air balloon on the horizon and a horse being a little zoom-y while being lunged--obviously that horse knew something was bad and terrifying--and we had our first dance of the day. I sat through it and he came back down with relative ease and we went back to our warm up.

We were walking with Allie and Lena again when the sound of thundering hooves came from behind us. Calabar scooted forward, likely to either get in front of the horse trying to pass him or just get out of the way. Again, I stayed with him and brought him back to himself.

At least until he saw the sheep. Apparently, sheep are really slathering horse-eating monsters or perhaps someone has heard the rumor that wolves sometimes play dress up, too. Calabar was fine when he could face them, but the second we would turn to walk back to the arena he would whip around me--never in the bubble--so he could face them again. Eventually, when they did nothing but lay there and stare at him, they ceased to be terrifying.

Amazingly enough, while I was a little nervous, I didn't find myself willing to get off and give up.

Even after the next freak out which was--by all accounts--a ride worthy of any rodeo bronc. We were doing figure eight flag barrels. You take a flag in, ride around the far barrel one way, swap with a flag there and head towards the near barrel (as in near the exit gate), circle it the other way, swap with a flag there, then ride back to the center before turning and exiting the arena. Apparently, Bar thinks there is only one direction to circle a barrel and he argued. A lot. Oh, and the flag can only be on one side of him, too. Until he stops, sticks his nose into the bucket of sand holding the flag and says, "OH! It's just a flag! Okay, we can proceed now," like he didn't just spend what felt like forever doing his own little dance moves.

Me, doing whatever was opposite enough of what Calabar was doing to keep me on his back.
And just like that, the storm was over and he proceeded to act like a normal horse and we finished the course and exited the arena to applause and kudos for our wild ride.

I don't know why you were so upset, Mom. This is kinda fun!
Then it was time to prepare for the costume contest. I thought I had a cute idea, though at the time I came up with it I didn't know how appropriate the day would make it. I found an astronaut costume and covered my dark brown horse with glittery stars and, well, just glitter to make him look like a dark and starry night. His crescent moon was a nice touch. Allie and Lena were a cowboy and Indian Princess Pony. Lena says to be sure the Princess part is highlighted--capital P.

Crescent moon on the galaxy horse.
We seriously underestimated the creativity and dedication our fellow show-goers had to the costume portion of the day. There was a horse dressed in purple spandex and spots--complete with a tail--as Dino from the Flintstones. There was a Mad Hatter and a Clown and a Vampire horse.

And then there was what led to the final melt down of the day for my poor over-stimulated pony--Lady Gaga and her cute little Arab, complete with head to toe veils, a skull-topped rain stick and a jingly chest collar. Poor Calabar said that was just too much for him and we decided to opt out of the costume contest in favor of just watching, which was okay. He calmed down and stood with me while Allie and Lena finished the costume judging and then did the egg carry.

When the egg carry was over, Allie let me know she was okay to be finished and we started to pack everything up. Amy (aka Lady Gaga) came over without veils or scary skull stick, but with her horse Sultan still jingling in his fancy costume. This time, Calabar did not spin out in fear and--with huge eyes--stretched out his neck to see if indeed there was a real horse under the bangles. Allie gave Calabar a treat for being so brave, so he tried it again. He still wasn't sure about it all, but at least he went back to curious instead of terrified so we ended on a good note and headed back to the barn with our glittery and painted ponies.

I could (and did a little bit) critique and nitpick my actions or my position or how I handled each and every new thing that came up. I could let it sap my confidence and keep us from trying new things.

Or..

I could be proud of Calabar and me and the fact that the bond we've built--the trust and respect--got us through this day of scary sheep and more new things than the brown horse had experienced in years. I could pat myself on the back for staying on a horse as he became an overly athletic version of himself.

Methinks I'll go with the latter.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Ollie's gift

Some things are really important and some things are not and sometimes a little gray cat can remind you what  in life matters and what needs to flow on by.

Ollie the forest cat
Oliver was just such a little gray cat and we loved him every day he graced us with his quirky presence all the way through today when he just couldn't do it any more.

Ollie (named after Oliver Twist) was found by a friend of ours in a storm drain, badly beat up and very hungry. They took him to the vet, got him cleaned up, but he just didn't fit into their existing cat family so they began looking for a new home for him.

We lucked out, or rather Ollie decided he could tolerate us (well, Steve more than me) and last Thanksgiving he came home with us. He didn't appreciate the long car ride, but after a few weeks he decided that living in the redwood forest suited him just fine. 

"My stump, my dragon."
He dealt with our cats mostly by batting out with a long arm first and asking questions later. They learned not to mess with him fairly quickly, though Elmer did occasionally test the boundaries. We figured out Ollie was deaf and also didn't see up close very well, but he still enjoyed the backyard almost as much as sitting on the sofa curled up and purring next to Steve. 

Steve was his favorite, paws down. Ollie was drawn to the peace and quiet of Steve--a safe human who also happens to know all the places cats like to have scratched and rubbed. Very often, I would catch sight of him looking up at Steve, an absolutely adoring look shining from his eyes while his rumbly purr filled the whole room. 

Best sofa cat in the world
This cat could purr like crazy and he did so with the slightest provocation, right up until the end. By then, he could no longer get up on the sofa and he would rest in the middle of the floor so anyone walking by would have the opportunity to scratch his head on their way past. His sight was nearly completely gone as well, so it also insured he would know when someone was headed to the kitchen, allowing him to follow and be sure to get a treat. 

It is a bit raw around here right now, a little empty--even though we still have plenty of cats floating around. Ollie was always talking, and we would both talk back even though he couldn't actually hear us. 

"The kitchen is awfully quiet," Steve said to me just now. There is no one to save extra steak or chicken for any more, either.

We had him less than a year, and the hole he has left behind seems disproportionally large. We gave him a good life here and he was happy. After hearing his story two weeks ago, the vet looked at him--full of tumors and still purring on the floor of the exam room--and said, "This is probably the happiest he's been in his whole life.

We certainly would like that to be true because he gave as good as he got.

With that big purr and quirky personality, Ollie reminded us that life is short and sweet and loving another being has no guarantees, though it very often carries big rewards. Oliver was just such a reward and there are no regrets here, just a little more silence than we're used to. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

My muses--one OTTB, one with spots

Calabar--the muse, the mirror, the magical pony
Calabar has taught me a lot and has led me down the path towards what seems to be a new chapter in my life--do all Off-Track Thoroughbreds create such transformation for their owners?

That would be a lot of transformation across this new land of Off-Track Thoroughbred loving fans. World-changing transformation.

This could be truly awesome.

But back to me and what Calabar has done for me.

He has--through trial and tribulation--taught me how to believe in myself and in him. He has shown me the truth in my instincts and challenged me to be braver and push past fear. He has carried me when he was hurting and bounced me off when I wasn't paying attention. He has asked me to get on and ride. He has shown me joy. He has made me cry in frustration. He has taught me patience and how to open up and play.

He has turned me into an advocate--a loud and occasionally strident advocate--for the Off-Track Thoroughbred. That in turn led me to Neigh Savers and working to move racing Thoroughbreds from the track and into new careers.

I was recently promoted to the board of Neigh Savers, which is both humbling and exciting. Helping direct this organization and be more active in our efforts to promote OTTBs is like ice cream every day. Better, actually. When my job got if-fy earlier this year (still there, by the way), Steve asked me what I really wanted to do.

This is it.

I love horses, all horses, but the Off-Track Thoroughbred has given me a mission and now a path to help fulfill that mission.

Neigh Savers led to the Thoroughbred Classic Horse Show Series and I suspect this is all just the tip of the iceberg.

Many thanks are due to Calabar--my fuzzy brown mirror. Thank you for showing me your heart and leading me to myself. But there are kudos due also to the spotty horse who started this ball rolling by being her beautiful and challenging self. Lena Rey, we would never be here without you.

Lena--the original muse, the mare that began it all

Friday, October 19, 2012

Bar and his farrier--a love story

Mike has been shoeing Calabar for nearly five years and recently began telling me how good my horse has been behaving. I thought, "Well, sure. Compared to how he behaved the very first time Mike came out, I'm sure anything would be better." But I watched yesterday first hand as my formerly rambunctious Off-Track Thoroughbred stood completely quietly the ENTIRE TIME Mike worked on him. He didn't swing back and forth in the cross ties. He didn't fight for his feet. He just stood there and practically napped most of his appointment. 

Mike and Bar--pals at last
It just goes to show you (shoe you?) that patience and consistency will eventually win out--even if it takes awhile to get there. 

And it took awhile, that's for sure.

About two days after Bar became mine in December of 2007, he got out and tore up his back feet. I had not had the chance to put back shoes on him, yet, and even after two years barefoot, his feet had not turned into anything other than typical Thoroughbred feet. Having both hind feet in tatters, Bar was not comfortable and it was necessary to call my fabulous farrier, Mike Brookfield. Mike had been working on Lena for several months after our erstwhile farrier disappeared into the ether and her feet were in great shape. Of course, Lena's feet are a farrier's dream while Calabar's are, well, a farrier's retirement account. 

Unfortunately, Calabar was not the world's best citizen for our inaugural shoeing together. He was convinced Mike was going to do something terrible and he was a much more defensive horse back then. I don't really know why this was the case with the farrier, though. He had a great farrier at the track and shoes were a very common part of his life, so really there was no excuse for his behavior. He swung back and forth. He leaned on Mike. He basically did almost everything in his power to distract from the shoeing process except bite or kick or strike--which gave him a few points but not many. Mike ended up building a barrier around Calabar with various objects so when he swung, he encountered something whichever way he went. Mike also might have done the fastest shoeing job ever that day, but shoes were applied which was all we needed.

Bar and his barriers--these are the external ones
He did get better for Mike after that, little by little, but was never a perfect angel in the many times I watched. There were a couple of times Mike eased some pain--once from an abscess and once when he thought he might have run a hot nail and re-set it. Knowing my horse, I could swear that has something to do with his new attitude.

Whatever the reason, watching Bar stand quietly and politely was cause for a small moment of celebration. I can't take credit for it all, no. Mike has always been clear and consistent with his expectations in terms of behavior while underneath my big, brown horse. He has also been kind and gentle. These are things all horses notice, and Calabar is no exception.

I'm just glad one of us has learned to stand still at least some of the time.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Massage Mirror

Some of you know that my horses get massages but I never do. It recently occurred to me that loosening up my own body might help Calabar's way of going--or at very least, help me stay out of his way better. To be fair, I scheduled massages for both of us this week. Calabar is not good at massages and it turns out, I'm only marginally better at talking myself into holding still.

Calabar was first and Karen came out Wednesday morning to work on him. As always, she began by watching him move in the round pen and gave me some good news--he is stiff, yes, but he is stiff evenly on both sides which is actually good progress! She also commented after his massage that his hind end feels pretty good and that means we're doing well together, my brown horse and me.

Bar thinking about biting Karen the last time  he had work done
Calabar was not overly cooperative the last time Karen did body work on him, so we specifically picked a non-meal time and set up in his paddock, rather than putting him in the cross-ties. Though normally the last step, Karen started with her laser device first in case we couldn't get to any massage. She let him walk in circles around her while she rested the paddle on the various areas on his body--neck, shoulder, withers, back, etc. He did stand still for some of it, but giving him the option to move helped with his inherent claustrophobia so he didn't fight and Karen ended up getting more actual laser-to-horse time. There was some comment about his owner not holding still well, either, but that was surely about Bar's other owner.

Next she did some massage on his left side and showed me a few specific techniques to use on his shoulders and neck on a regular basis. He still moved away several times, but he was pretty good at letting her dig into that side.

Not so much the right side. He would not hold still at all, but curiously enough, he would circle back to her and put his head in her chest. It was like he was saying, "Yes, it hurts and I know you're trying to help but I just can't release that junk right there quite yet."

I knew just how he felt the very next day when I got my massage. "Oh, wow. That's tighter than I thought it was." There was a spot in my right hip that felt like maybe if I could stand just a little more pressure than the good amount being applied, it might let go. Maybe. It was so tender, though, that holding still was nearly impossible.There was another spot at the base of my skull--also on the right--that created an internal war between pushing into the pressure and jumping up from the table. I stayed put but only because I can tell myself this will make things better.

Calabar does not have built-in assurances that this will help the way I do, but the way Karen worked with him yesterday--giving him time and space and freedom--moved him towards at least thinking about it.

I went to the barn last night, still not sure I could ride with my Forrest-bruised thighs, but determined to at least lunge Calabar to see how he was moving. He looked fantastic--beautiful, rhythmic movement and longer, looser strides, too.

So of course I got on for a minute, bruises and all, and he was actually easier to ride! I mentioned to Karen that I couldn't tell if it was him or me and she said a lot of it was him. I still wasn't sure, but the difference last night was undeniable. Less wonky, both of us.

Bar says I should get massages more often and that he is actually fine, but could I gently rub that spot right there? NO, not too much and not too hard and definitely stop when he tells me to. Ah, that's the ticket.

And indeed it may be just the ticket for both of us, though I should probably spend more time relaxing during my massage versus trying to map my sore spots to where they would be on him and seeing if they match. Maybe next time.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Ow

Getting kicked hurts. Seriously hurts. I think it's my first time--which all things considered is pretty miraculous--but ow.

After watching Katie go through everything she went through, I had a philosophical understanding of the pain but today Forrest filled me in on the actual physical understanding.

I was walking next to Katie as she led Forrest to the big arena. I admit, I was preoccupied, thinking about her getting on him and worrying because he was fresh and she hadn't lunged him. (There was a horse in the round pen precluding this.) We were walking past the corner of the indoor arena, coming around to face the outdoor, which is a place both Calabar and Forrest get a little hinky sometimes. Sadly, I forgot this little piece of information.

As far as I remember, I was walking with Katie at Forrest's head when I bent down to pick something up. I started to stand up and felt, well, a blow to both thighs that can gracefully be described as rather painful. Un-gracefully, it can only be described with expletives. Loud ones. On the plus side, had I not already stood up, it could have been my head and that would have been all kinds of bad. We'll take that kind of luck, thank you, though Steve apparently thinks I should not rely on it.

So far, I seem to be fine. There is a horseshoe-shaped tattoo on my right thigh that's more of an abrasion, though I suspect there will be impressive bruising in the next couple of days. However, I can walk and even do squats to some extent.

Ice. Tylenol. More ice. Elevation.

And Forrest got no carrots from me today. Even though I know it is my responsibility to be aware of him,  of his mood and his capabilities.

And that perhaps is the real lesson of the day. It was cool, the wind was blowing leaves and energy all over the place. Had I been walking Calabar or Lena, I'd have been ready for just that sort of reaction. I was just so caught up in worrying about Katie, I forgot about watching Forrest and being prepared.

Make that a lesson learned.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

What we are expecting soon

Mud is good for neck wrinkles, right?
Just to follow up on that last post.. there will be mud. And lots of it. This is what Calabar looks like when he's blanketed--neck decoration only. (Obviously, there has been napping.)

This is what he looks like when it's warmer and he can really do a good and serious coating.

I'm half buckskin?

Shorter days and routine changes

Calabar stood (mostly) patiently in the cross-ties as I rubbed him down down after our ride the other night. It was  about 6:30 p.m. and I found myself struggling a bit in the dim (what? dim?) light.

Right. Days are getting shorter, it will soon be time for the fluorescent lights and blurry night-time pictures--or no pictures at all. Soon, there will be rain and puddles and mud and a grumpy horse who has not been able to lie down and nap.

Zzzzzzzzzz.
Calabar likes to nap, to sink deep into REM sleep. I think he even snores. I know Lena snores when she power naps, but I don't know for sure that she naps like he does as often as he does--which I'm pretty sure is at least once a day. And he is very serious about his naps. Katie sent me the above photo with the text, "I thought he was dead." I've had that same heart-stopping moment a few times, but he's always up and at the gate by the time I get to his paddock.

Winter is hard on him in terms of the power nap. He is not overly fond of the mud, but will lay down if it's not raining on him. If it's raining, he stands under his shelter rather than lie down. Or at least that's how it seems much of the time.

I notice he is grumpier in the winter and I seriously think it's lack of power naps.

But before you suggest I put this lovely boy in a stall, forget it. He thinks stalls are prisons and wants no part of them, thank you very much.

Winter, rain in particular, also signals another switch to our routine--with blankets and sogginess, the ritual rolling must come before riding, not after. In the warm weather, he has little to no interest in rolling before we ride, but does like a good toss in the dirt when we're done. When he's been out in the rain, wrapped in Gore-Tex, the number one priority when we get into the arena is rolling until itchy blanket-skin can be relieved. Having been encased in rain gear and multiple layers for hours on end myself and knowing how blissful a shower feels afterwards, I really can't blame him. And once the rolling is done, he is attentive and cooperative with whatever comes next.

Ahhh, yes--that's the spot!
It seems that the older I get, the faster the years go. I could swear to you we just had winter and that summer could not truly be over, and yet the thickening coats on my horses tell me otherwise. Soon, Peter will be reminding all of us to turn off the darn arena lights, too.

It could be worse. We could be without an indoor arena to use to burn off all that autumn energy and ease blanket-itchiness. We could live somewhere it snows. (Hahahahahahahahaha!!! With much respect to my friends that play in that cold fluffy stuff--no. Make that a Hell No.)

Coming soon, the season of Calabar the cocoa-covered truffle pony. (Arena dirt sticks amazingly well to soggy ponies.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Autumn arrives with silliness

Autumn in Northern California is beautiful. Not perfectly predictable, but beautiful--kind of like my friend Calabar as a matter of fact.

What horse do I feel like being today? Hmmmm.
Daytime temperatures are in the 80s today, but yesterday it was a bit cooler and breezy. Monday was a lot like today. At night it gets down to the 40s and we are just starting to see the fuzz that will become (I hope) good winter coats on the horses. Rumor has it, crisp fall air can also lead to bouncy horses.

On Monday, it was warm enough for just a tank top when I went to ride my faithful steed. There was all likelihood he might be a little high because he hadn't been out much since the week before and he hadn't worked very hard when he'd been out. While he wasn't on the moon, he was determined to do what HE wanted (jump) not what I wanted. Since he wasn't listening particularly well, I wasn't particularly inclined to trust that he would jump and behave versus jump and go careening around the arena at a mad gallop. As it turns out, he did behave and we didn't even have to argue much.

Tuesday, however, was different weather and I had a different horse. Cooler, with a bit of a breeze--very nearly sweatshirt territory! Calabar was goofy and bouncy in the cross ties, where normally he is quite content to stand still--as long as I'm not massaging him. It really should have been a clue.

Peter had a lesson going on in the indoor, but since we're not allowed to lunge in the outdoor arena and I wasn't getting on that horse without doing some ground work, I took the brown horse into the arena anyway. He was calm at first, and he's been absolutely no problem the other times we've been in during a lesson, but last night? Holy moly. Buck, fart, spin, buck some more.

"Can you catch your horse?" Peter said calmly. (Hard to ruffle that man, thankfully.)

"I'm trying," I said. Normally, this is not an issue. Normally, Calabar is happy as a clam to quit running and come to the middle. (There are sometimes treats in the middle, you see.)

Not yesterday. Yesterday there was energy to expel. Luckily, the lesson was nearly over when we got there and I did eventually (okay, it felt like forever) get the brown horse to come in and stand still while they finished up.

Then I let him go again and go he did. Zooooommmmmmm! Spin. Zooooommmm! I left him for a few minutes to his own devices while I went out to my car and he stopped completely. When I came back, he was standing in the middle, back leg cocked but looking vaguely worried at being alone.

Okay, then.

We actually stayed inside the round pen and worked on spiraling down to the middle and spiraling back out at the trot. He was super elastic and forward and using his hind end, which was nice, but not necessarily relaxed. Of course, neither was I which likely had something to do with it. When he would get fussy, I'd kick him up to the canter and he just felt like he could go forever--even if it was in circles--until FINALLY I felt him begin to wind down. We spent more time trotting than normal and it was big and bouncy so I spent more time posting than normal--something my thighs insist on reminding me about today.

Today, as I said, is warmer so we shall see what horse I have today. I don't know if it's the weather or just him feeling good. I am glad for it and realize there is a challenge for me in this--go for it with him, even if it's just a little bit.

This is hard for me, as many of you know, and I have to try to do it in a way that still lets me feel somewhat safe (or as safe as riding any horse ever is). Jumping is fun and we both like it, but sometimes he isn't in his head enough--or at least doesn't appear to be--to make me feel like it's a good idea. Then again, when I finally let him do a jump the other night, even though I wasn't convinced he was going to cooperate, he did and we could then go on to other things.

I really don't feel like getting hurt again. Not only is it painful, it usually means I can't ride for awhile and that isn't good for either of us. However--not to jinx it--I've managed to stay on through all his latest antics and it's likely that means a) he's not trying as hard, b) I'm better at reading him and redirecting the energy and c) my butt is stickier.

Deep breath. Big girl breeches. Let's just see where this takes us, shall we?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Learning where to start

What? Turn? Why? And your outside hand is crossing over my withers, dork.
I love working with ex-racehorses, and not just my own. Each horse comes off the track with a different perspective--some had great owners, handlers, trainers and some did not. Some loved to run, some did not and some liked it okay until things started to hurt. Each horse I work with shows me something new I need to understand to best help them. It's nice if you have some history, some vague idea of what their life was like before they came to you, but that isn't always an option.

Forrest's breeders apparently wanted him back and his easy-going attitude reflects a trust and belief in humans that reminds me of Lena. Lena is not a racehorse, but she is a performance horse. I know Lena's breeders and love them for their horse sense and general good sense. Forrest is willing to go along with something new, even if he's not sure about it, because humans are okay (mostly) in his book. Lena is also willing, though she often needs a hair more convincing that you are in charge.

Lena the spotty jumping horse getting snuggles
I don't know Calabar's breeders, but I do know the people who handled him after he came off the van as a two year old. I wish I knew more. I wish I knew why he seems so afraid of making a mistake--which sometimes translates to resistant to trying. What do I mean by that? I mean when he doesn't understand what I'm asking, he has tended to over-react in the opposite direction.

Take our recent adventures in jumping for example. Going the "wrong" way--jump first, ground rail second--he's fine. He stays calm, relaxed, doesn't (normally, anyway) drag me around the arena. But turn it around the other way and things get a little dicey. So we just step back to what he is comfortable with and try again. We have done this with lots of things, jumping is just our newest challenge.

Yes, Calabar continues to instruct me daily about what works to train him, but Dublin is my newest teacher in the ways of the horse. Dublin is funny, but not at all bad--just a little defensive sometimes. I wrote a bit of his story on the Neigh Savers blog, but the more I get to know him, the more I see what a neat horse he is inside.

Doesn't look like any saddle I'VE ever seen
When I met Dublin, he was in a stall on the track--an "intact" 4-year old stud and very mad at the world, but still interested in people. He would pin his ears at you, try to bite you, than stick his nose out--ears perked forward--to say, "Hello, won't you pet my nose?" And he would let you pet him a little bit.

We gelded him and moved him to a barn in the East Bay where he began his time off, learning to be a horse, learning to be around other horses in a mellower environment. I liked him, he was definitely happier there, and curious and calm most of the times I saw him. I just didn't see him very much.

Fast forward to this month and more time to hang out with this quirky boy. He definitely has boundaries and is very clear when you've crossed them. People are not necessarily to be trusted, but if you're nice to him, he will begin to pay attention to you. Some people say he seems a little aloof, but he's still very interested in all the action around him. Horses here, horses there, some with spots, some with riders (and looking comfortable with riders), lots to see.

What's that over there??
He seems both young and old to me--a jaded exterior covering up the hope and curiosity of youth, just beginning to believe there might be fun to be had in the world.

Sooo relaxed with this particular human
It would be easy to shatter his new-found optimism, so we are starting slowly with him. There is plenty of time to prove to him that, yes, there is much joy in being a horse and people can even be a part of that.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Trailering goal

Calabar doesn't know it, yet, but we have a new goal--solo trailering.

Going out with Lena is one thing. They both load and trailer very well--as long as they are together and Calabar rides in front, of course. In fact, loading them these days mostly consists of getting of their way while they practically leap into the trailer. "Lena, can I shut the divider first before you climb in?"

Going out is a fun thing--as long as there is two of us
However, the last time I tried to take Calabar somewhere alone, it wasn't pretty, so I haven't done it again. I'm realizing we might have to work on that, though, even if he doesn't think it's a good idea.

Ex-racehorses generally trailer very well, even alone. When racing, they trailer a lot. I do have a vague memory of Calabar's trainer telling me he always pawed while riding in a trailer, but once we got him and started taking him out on trails with Lena, he became a champion hauler.

And then.

Our friend Devon has a mare of her own that had come off the track and she wanted to take Ursulita out on a mellow ride. Since I was still not doing a lot of fast work with Bar, we decided to take the two of them out to Doran Beach for a gentle outing.

Calabar loaded great and I decided to let him have the whole trailer so did not close the divider. That may have been a mistake.

As we left the barn, he began to get upset. Frantic is more like it. The trailer rocked back and forth as we drove through downtown Sebastopol and I'm probably lucky no one called the ASPCA on me. It's also a good thing he didn't fit through the window or he might have taken Main Street by storm. As it was, the other drivers got a really good look at how long his neck is.

So, after telling his ex-trainers how great he hauled, it was a little humbling to pull in to the barn and have them tell me they heard me coming from the time I made the turn onto their road. Sigh.

When Calabar saw Howie and the farm where he'd lounged around for a couple years after coming off the track and before coming to me, his eyes got HUGE. He was still dancing in place, but Ursulita just climbed on the trailer like it was no big deal.

Gotta love ex-racehorses. "Eh, big bouncing brown horse--no big deal."

And then we had a great time at the beach! Both the horses were good, nobody spooked, Calabar clambered over a big log just because I asked him to.

Look at us, well, Devon and Ursi--at the beach!
After our ride, Calabar would not load for me ("But we're going HOME!") so we loaded Ursulita first when we headed home and then dropped goof ball at home before taking Ursi back to her barn.

The very next time Steve and I went to take the horses out, Calabar flat out refused to load for me--even with Lena standing right there. It took him close to a year to let me load him again, though he would load for Steve most of the time.

Which brings us back to the present and the big brown horse who practically drags me onto the trailer now, having finally come to believe I am not taking him anywhere terrible.

A new horse friend has just adopted an ex-racehorse and will be ready to do some trail riding in awhile. She boards at a nice place that has several nice trails right off the property and invited us to come up sometime.

Hm. Can I bring a friend for my goofy horse? That's kind of awkward and imposing, though I didn't think of that until after I'd asked. Oops--color me rude.

So. It is time to practice solo trailering with Calabar. Probably we should do it with Lena, too, just for good measure. Forrest the wonder horse already trailers well all alone. Show off. Goes swimming, too. Super show off.

I think I know all the tricks to get this started--load, unload, load, unload, short trips, unload, load, repeat--and the biggest trick of all is patience and persistence. I'd like to think perhaps I'm not giving Calabar the benefit of the doubt and he'll suddenly be fine with this, but only actually trying this will answer that question.

Field trip!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Calabar says..

My horse is opinionated about things, many things.

For example, he likes to have his hay delivered (even if he doesn't eat any of it) before we do any work. Seriously. He can have had grain and carrots and even some alfalfa from me, but unless he knows his hay delivery from Peter is in his pen (best if he gets a bite or two), he is just that much harder to work with. When he has the hay, it's like he can relax and concentrate on what we're doing without arguing.

Luckily, Bar has no obvious opinion about being ridden by a mushroom.
Apparently, he is also pretty sure about the pattern of the poles and jumps and the order in which we should cross them. Even if I'd been doing it wrong in the first place.

After watching Allie and Lena the other day go over properly placed and spaced poles and jumps, I attempted to direct Calabar to first go over the pole, then go over the little jump.

"Um. No!" he said.

Arguing with 1.200 pounds is really not productive, though I did explain emphatically that I was NOT coming off again so settle down. He did, after a mild tempter tantrum.

The way he seems to like it to work is to jump high over the little jump--he clears it by a significant margin--and canter out so as to be able to completely ignore the other pole. Having to think about getting over the single pole at a trot BEFORE getting to the jump is more of a challenge. Where to put his legs, when to lift his feet... "I need momentum!!" he says.

No, you need a little momentum and a lot more self-carriage, my big brown friend.

And you aren't getting either with your head down between your knees throwing a tantrum. Stoppit.

Now after our first go-round with this, I realized that having even the little jump set up after the pole might have been a little much for him, so decided to drop the jump rails to the ground when we started the next time. Oh, and I added another pole on the ground so we could try this from both directions.

The very next time we faced the jump question, I was actually not riding. We had gone on a great trail ride the day before, so all I really wanted was for Calabar to do some light ground work to stay supple. After that, though, I thought it wouldn't hurt to play with the jumps. "Just follow me!" I said.

"Hm," said Calabar. "You've changed it. Again. Have we not discussed change? Why must things change? Just because you can trot through with your two puny legs does not mean I, with my four beautiful long legs can be nearly that coordinated." And no, he wasn't at first, but he got it at the end.

Tonight I rode and we walked over it. A lot. Then we tried trotting over it and he jumped all three FLAT objects instead of trotting. Sigh.

So then we trotted several times over a single pole. "See?" I said, "Piece of cake."

"What's cake? Are we done yet?"

We finally trotted over the three sequential poles without thumping or cantering or bucking, though it was not necessarily the smoothest it could be. That's okay. He stayed at the trot, I didn't fall off. We'll take it.

This all reminds me a little bit of Snowman, "The Eighty-Dollar Champion." His owner tried to teach Snowman the basics of jumping,  starting in the logical place of trotting over poles. If I recall, Snowman wasn't too great at that part of his training, so was sold and proceeded to jump high paddock fences just to go back to where he knew he belonged. The rest, as they say, is history.

Calabar can jump, I've felt him gather up and spring up and over. He just hasn't yet linked the poles on the ground to the jumping piece of things, but I think we'll get there. Unless he thinks it's as pointless as a mechanical cow, in which case I will have to get creative to build up his core and his balance for all things, not just jumping.

If I take Snowman's lead, I should just set up 3-footers and let go of the reins to see what happens. I really wish I were that brave.

I am not, though, so crafty training techniques will have to suffice. Calabar says he is helping prevent Alzheimer's from setting in.

He may be right at that--certainly I am never bored with the big brown horse and that counts for a lot.