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.

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.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Calabar's new favorite thing

Though you might not know it from the few and far between blog posts over the last month, Calabar and I have been doing great work together and we have found something the big brown horse enjoys--jumping. He's way better at it than I am, and we're only doing tiny jumps, but he loves it. Ears up, big trot, canter out, loves it. I'm trying to catch up to his skill level, but it's hard when I'm laughing and saying, "Woo!!!"

What are you doing down there? Let's go jump!
I knew when I got him Calabar liked to jump. He once cleared his pipe panel corral to go see what the neighbors were doing--bowed tendon, shmowed tendon, he says. Once, very early on, he dumped Steve in the outdoor arena--when we had several 3-or-so foot jumps set up--and Calabar proceeded to go over every single one with ease before coming back to Steve. His solution when we came to a creek crossing up at Slide that was a little steep for him? Jump it. 

So for quite awhile I've had vague plans of starting to do some low jumps with him, both for entertainment and because Karen suggested it would help him with his self-carriage. We've been discouraged a little by people who worry about his tendon, but my answer is to see how the tendon does and make a decision based on that. He will let me know if things hurt and he knows I will listen. We also aren't planning on anything too high or too strenuous, just something to add to the arena routine to make it, well, less routine. 

There were a few things we had to conquer first--teaching him to turn and use his hind end and my own fears about riding him. 

The funny thing is having specifics to work on seems to have helped with both. I'm thinking about how he feels, where his feet are, where my balance is and does it feel right, rather than "OHMYGODIMIGHTFALLOFF!" The more I ride, the more he and I both progress, the less I'm thinking about the fear and the more we can actually do. It's like this awesome upward spiral I forgot existed. 

So a few nights ago, we began trotting over one of the trail obstacles (poles on the ground in a pattern) and walking over the tiny jump. Then we trotted up to and over the tiny jump. I was trying to imitate the positions my friends who jump post on Facebook as examples the "right" position, but apparently I was not getting it quite right, not at first. Then we trotted up to it and I stuck my legs down and did something with my rear end and hands that felt balanced--still not sure what--and Calabar apparently agreed because he rocked back and cleared the tiny jump with plenty of air and big happy ears. So we did it again. 

He apparently won't jump unless I'm in the right place. I'm not sure which one of us he is taking care of, but he is very clear on where I need to be for us to do the fun thing, not the just-get-over-the-jump thing. 

I admit that I still get a little nervous when he breaks into a canter out of the jump, but I am working through it a little more every time. It helps a lot that he listens when I ask him to slow down, of course, and that he is so very excited to move forward as long as it's towards the jump. Motivational tools for the lazy horse are good to have. 

Really, though, having journeyed this far with him--through heartache and frustration and sometimes crushing fear--it is incredible and somewhat humbling to find ourselves in this space, working together and finding new ways to enjoy what we're doing. Jumping may be Calabar's new favorite thing, but he is still (always) my favorite big, brown ex-racehorse and I am grateful for all the things we've taught each other.