Saturday, November 16, 2013

Teaching (or maybe learning) patience

Calabar has a set time frame for riding. It is generally about six furlongs, though we have been stretching that of late. And he has funny ways of telling me he thinks we are done. He heads, of course, back to the mounting block at the center of the arena. Regardless of which arena, there is a center and a mounting block signalling his intention to end the session. 

Ears of displeasure
In the indoor arena, there are trail obstacles set up. We have used these often as part of our cool down time so he believes if we do them, the riding should come to and end if he heads towards them. Regardless of where we are in our ride. We have also ended with a few jumps a little cross rail, so he will also wander over there in hopes of getting back to his dinner.

I am not an ogre. If he is doing what I am asking without arguing, I don't drill him endlessly and we end on a good note. However, if there is grumpiness or a little too much attitude, well, we have to work a little longer. 

This leads, as you may guess, to a little conflict now and again. 

We are learning and teaching patience together. 

Becoming impatient and bossy with Calabar is a losing battle. He is 1,200 pounds of opinion and unless I convince him we are having fun, I will not win. So, yes, sometimes I interrupt our collection and dressage work to jump over the cross rails a couple times. I don't care about form or how he comes out of it--we can worry about that later--I am more concerned that he gets to do something he likes so we can go back to doing what will help both of us be better in the long run. 

I figure we have lots of time to make us both better as a team, so taking the time to have some fun along the way can't hurt.




Saturday, November 09, 2013

A Few Photos from Breeders' Cup 2013

For the second year in a row, I ventured down to sunny Southern California and Santa Anita for Breeders' Cup to promote awareness of Thoroughbred Aftercare. This year, Steve joined us and did a fantastic job handing out turquoise bracelets to the thousands of attendees to this premier racing event.

A Wear-To-Care bracelet worn by none other than Goldencents, winner of the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (Photo courtesy of CARMA.)
While there, I got to practice some of my newly gained photography skills--no more using the Auto setting for me--on some of the most beautiful subjects in the world.

Note: Flag race program while photographing or shortly thereafter so we know who's looking at us.
And just so you don't think I only photograph tall, dark brown horses:

Pretty red horse after a race. Distracted once more by beauty, details are lacking.
And for Lena Rey, a spotty pony horse taking a break between races:

Not too bad for a dark, indoor shot. It's the spots, they help.
This horse appears to be worried that the human is blocking his photo opportunity:

You're in front of the camera, dude.
And there is something in this shot that I just love, some energy between horse and handler as they center on each other with everything spinning around them:

His hat says "Street Girl," so.. Street Girl?
Got a few shots of the races, too, but often there are heads in my way. Go figure. However, there are names!

Gary Stevens on Beholder
Authenticity and Close Hatches before the Distaff
Golden Ticket before the Dirt Mile
Goldencents before (winning) the Dirt Mile
I'm still editing, looking for photos that are without human heads or are otherwise interesting. My photo skills are still improving, but I'm having fun with it all and obviously love the subject matter.

Hard working pony horses and outriders--kudos to these guys!
Same gorgeous horse pictured above in black and white. Hubba hubba.
Breeders' Cup is a two-day extravaganza of racing with some of the finest horses in the world parading right in front of you. This year also visited the event with tragedy. Secret Compass and jockey John Velazquez both paid a terrible price to be part of Breeders' Cup. My snapshots are meant to tap the wonder I feel in the presence of beings that seem not of this earth sometimes, not diminish the loss of a beautiful horse and injury of a talented rider. 

Peace.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Milestones

Calabar and I have ridden quite a journey together--from both of us not knowing much to knowing a little and trying a lot to figuring out what we can work on that is fun for both of us. Along the way, we've had some great teachers and terrific support from a lot of people. Peter (my barn owner) teases me a lot but also pushes gently when it's time for me to be a little braver. Steve, of course, has always been there for me and for Calabar, telling me to trust myself and trust my horse. Karen has been supportive and always offers a trick or two based on the two personalities involved. Katie tells me all the time I'll be fine and she's usually right. Allie dares me to just go for it and applauds Calabar and me for all our efforts.

It seems like it's all helped us make some progress! At a recent clinic with our favorite Dressage instructor Ellen Eckstein, Calabar and I managed to eke out a rather decent trot. Better than that, we worked through some fussiness and behavior challenges and focused on the work at hand. 

video

It has sometimes been a hard road for us but the smile on my face at the end of this video plus the attentive and focused expression on Calabar's face says we have made it a good journey. There is more to come, always more to learn, but the joy and the passion persist.

I love this horse. I love what he has taught me and how far we have come together. I can't wait to see what we can do next! To all of you who have supported us and believed in us, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. We may have gotten this far without you, but it wouldn't have been as much fun.

Smiles after the clinic. Love this horse.

Friday, August 16, 2013

An ex-racehorse named Calabar and his spotty friend Lena

Lena Rey was our first horse. She is big and beautiful and knows it. She likes to run fast but it is good for her mind to slow down and focus. Her friend Calabar is the opposite. He needs to speed up to get his mind pointed the right direction.

Oh, he looks good in black and white
Funny we have ended up with two such different horses, but then again maybe not.

Allie and Lena moving slowly--Lena is listening very hard
When Lena starts to amp up--usually by the gate and almost always before I've asked her to--I turn her. We do serpentines or circles, sometimes across the whole darned arena for awhile. Because once she starts going, you've lost the concentration battle and there will be no more learning thereafter for either of you. Sometimes this is okay. Steve likes to just go out and ride and enjoy each other and the freedom of the gallop. I tend towards a little more work on my part and that requires a little more concentration on Lena's part. I can't work on my position and my posting if we are galloping. She can't work on her long trot and transitions if we're galloping. "It's good for you," I say. "Pbbbbbbrrrth," she says, blowing air out in a big sigh of resignation. Actually, I hope it's relaxation but my guess is it depends on the day.

Calabar rarely amps up. He would prefer to stand in the middle of the arena and watch other horses do all the work but he is always willing to be saddled and--once we get rolling--he works for me. And he works pretty hard. He is learning collection at the ripe old age of 13 and it's not so easy for him. "Why can't I balance with my neck, it's what I've always done??" he snorts. I explain that it's much better to use his whole body and he says that would be easier if I wasn't such a spaz in the saddle, but okay.

Beautiful boy, goofy rider
Yesterday, I felt a more balanced horse than I've ever felt. We long trotted over a pole both ways without even the slightest hesitation or hitch in his stride. Then we cantered over it both ways without hesitation. He flowed. I mostly went along with him and must not have gotten in his way too much.

He's not perfect. I have to get him moving and then ask for collection and contact, but that's okay. He's building up his muscles and learning to support himself (and me) and we'll get there together. He is trotting lovely circles in frame and his canter (yep, still cantering in the outdoor, woo!) is beautiful. It's better when I remember to bend and relax, but he is tolerant of my stiffness in a way he hasn't always been. I think that means that somewhere along the line, this horse and I have bonded.

I know it means we're moving forward on our journey together.

And as for Lena, she and I are remembering how to ride together, too. That's good for both of us and is probably good for Calabar, too. Lena teaches me to slow down and focus. Calabar pushes me to, well, push us both.

What a wonderful thing to have two such amazing horses in my life, each of them showing me something different about myself.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Long overdue update

Well thing have moved along without me documenting a lot of it here, but that has become the theme for 2013.

Dixie, my almost-horse, has found a much more suitable home with a young woman who is so delighted with her it shines through in every email update she sends me and in every photo I've taken of them since the day they picked her up.

Dixie and the right owner
Clyde has moved to a new barn with his sponsor and future adopter, Mary Sue. We are hoping the move helps clear up his hives (his immune system is figuring things out), but mostly it's a better fit for him and for Mary Sue.

Big handsome brown horse
So we are currently between Neigh Savers horses which means--gasp! I have a lot of time for my own horses and maybe to do a little writing, too.

Calabar is coming along nicely with his Dressage work, sometimes despite my input. I rode Lena recently, too, and realized what a different horse she is from Calabar. I knew this, of course, but it was good to practice the difference. And to sit a trot. That was a nice change. She needs more work than she's getting right now--Allie is in Scotland and then is going off to get her Masters in the East Bay. Good for Allie but kind of a bummer for us. On the other hand, it will be good to ride Lena more often if I can make that happen. The balance between the two horses is interesting and instructive.

AND we have a new-to-us recycled cat named Simon. He is a Siamese and talks like one. He is ten (we think) and has so far exhibited only a minor interest in the outside sometimes. He loves sitting in Steve's lap wherever Steve happens to be seated. I don't think Simon has interrupted any meetings with his distinctive meow, but I'm not here all day with the two of them so I can't swear to that.

Simon warming Steve's spot on the sofa
I'm still busy, still working hard and enjoying whatever runs through my days. Life is good and full of slobbery horse kisses. What else would I need? Oh, right. A perpetual supply of fresh carrots.


Friday, July 12, 2013

Turning a page on fear

Life offers ongoing lessons and life with horses tends to provide multiple chances to find out just how much there is left to learn. Since he bounded into my life in 2007, the road has been interesting for Calabar and me. We've had ups and downs--definitely a few moments of fear and frustration, but so many more of absolute joy and connection. He greets me at his gate every day, always ready to ride, always willing to give a good snuggle.

He really gives the best hugs ever
It has not always been easy, but from day one there has always been something between this big brown horse and me.

In fact, the very things that drew me to Calabar--his energy, his big presence, his straightforward attitude about the way things should go--are the things that have also led to our more painful incidents. The incidents, of course, led to fear, anxiety, less riding, and so on.

I'm still not where I want to be--galloping along at full speed, carefree and laughing--but I am riding more and enjoying it. I am learning to push him and trust that he'll respond and even if that response is a little belligerent, that I can handle it.

So far, it's working. He's happier. He's excited to be out with me and hasn't even really tried anything evil. He's a little lazy, but he doesn't get mad when I push him past it. He is attentive and responsive and relaxed. Maybe even a little relieved that I'm taking control so he doesn't have to, both of us responding to the ever-increasing level of trust.

Well, he looks good anyway.
Trust has been hard. Trust in the form of cantering has been vaguely terrifying and the mere thought of cantering in the outdoor caused hyperventilation. I had not cantered in the outdoor arena for, well, forever--afraid that Calabar might just take off. Or more specifically, that he would take off and I wouldn't be able to control him. In the indoor arena--a more contained environment--there has been cantering and jumping. There have even been various pranks and silly episodes worked through with as much grace and confidence as I can ever muster.

But the outdoor? With the scary bushes of doom and the wide open spaciness? Oooo.. shiver.

The other day, my friend Allie (who has been riding both Lena and Calabar) said, "Just do it." So I did. And my horse was good. Even when I got a little off-balance, he kept a happy face and moved forward in a relaxed and calm place.

Unlike riding motorcycles, leaning into the turn on horses is not necessary.
Then I slid off his butt backwards just because I could and he sighed and said, "You are ruining the reputation of crazy Thoroughbreds everywhere." I told him it was his fault for taking such a rookie and turning her into a huge fan of crazy Thoroughbreds. So much of a fan that fear is just not an option any more and trust continues to build on itself with every step.

Bar says, "You're embarrassing me."
Next we will try some jumping because I'd like to be a part of something that makes my horse smile this much.

"Wheeee!!!!"

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Diving interlude

Greetings from San Pedro, Belize, C.A.!

Steve and I are on an adventure full of sand, salt water and some crazy weather--all of this is fantastic, even if there are no ponies in sight.

Steve at the Aquarium site within the Blue Hole
And what are we doing here? Why, enjoying our other intense and possibly dangerous hobby--scuba diving. What am I doing this very second? Digesting a fine meal and trying to stay awake for at least another hour because falling asleep at 7 p.m. while on vacation seems so very lame. It may, however, be inevitable after diving today in post-storm seas and knowing we head out at 5:30 a.m. tomorrow for a full day of diving. Late-night partying at the local disco seems unwise, or it does for me as I prefer to be fairly well-rested, coherent and alert when I'm headed underwater.

Dive shop mid-storm. The boats had all been moved to the other side of the Caye for the storm duration.
We did miss one day of diving thanks to Tropical Depression Two which smacked into Belize with high winds, storm surge and a lot of sideways rain. If it had made it to Tropical Storm level, it would have been TS Barry, but it went the land route and is staying at TD level and dumping large amounts of rain on it's way west. On it's way through here, it blew things around, uprooted sea grass and knocked over part of the dive shop's dock.

Heavy clouds and sunrise over tanks--on the way to The Blue Hole
Luckily, we had at least gotten some diving in before the storm hit--two dives Saturday and the epic awesomeness that is the Great Blue Hole Sunday in the rain that preceded TDT. Incredible experiences that made sitting out yesterday mostly almost okay and gave us an adventure-filled day with our wacky and entertaining group of fellow divers. Golf carts are a great form of transportation, even in the rain, and you can in fact catch air at ten miles an hour. Who knew? No, I was not driving.

Tomorrow, we head out to Turneffe for a three-dive day with lunch and hopefully some sunshine. My skin does not yet look like I've been in the tropics, but a tan was only one of my very minor goals.

The major goals of diving as much as possible and absorbing copious amounts of warm salt water through my skin are being met to the very best of my ability. Staying awake much longer, however, is a goal rapidly slipping away from me tonight.

More soon, I hope--then back to the horses when we get home.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Emotional Intelligence

Working with horses has had a combined effect of both improving and muddling up my interactions with my fellow humans. This article discusses research showing a link between possible improvement to emotional intelligence and interaction with horses. This makes perfect sense to those of us who frequently wear eau de horse as our perfume of choice. Less obvious is the irritation we sometimes feel when our human interactions become exercises in uncovering the real meaning in that well-worded but obviously false statement.   

This is my inside expression when talking to some of my customers. 
"Well, that's a big stinky load of manure."
Horses mirror our moods and emotions. They do not care why we are exhibiting a particular flavor of attitude, but they will react to it and throw it back at us--sometimes in large and spectacular ways. Humans do this too, but often with a whole lot of other crap tossed in on top of it totally unrelated to the actual conversation. It's probably why horse people often get labeled as "blunt," among other less-flattering terms. 

You can't lie to horses and nuances are lost on them--they read intent and body language better then you do any day--so most of us have given up trying. This naturally bleeds over on occasion to our human interactions, though those on the other side do not always appreciate the less subtle approach some of us have adopted. And there are those people and situations requiring more nuance and delicate handling than a crop in the face--only figuratively, I swear--to remind them about personal space and respect.

On the plus side, tossing horse-references at non-horse people often distracts them from whatever idiotic drama they are planning. I had a customer--one who had been terrorizing the entire staff for several days--come up to me and say something about not really being scary to which I replied, "You're not scary, I ride Thoroughbreds." It took the next several sentences right clean out of her mouth which was quite delightful since most of them would surely have irritated me.

Thankfully for my sanity, and apparently my emotional intelligence, spending time with the much-easier to deal with and not particularly scary horses in my life keeps me on enough of an even keel that even the most aggravating human doesn't usually get to me. There are exceptions, but they disappear in my rear view mirror on the way to the barn and Calabar is quite good at reminding me just where my focus needs to be and it is most definitely not on the irritating customer.

If any one horse has taught me to be direct, clear and calm, it's Calabar. And if any horse has helped me be a better owner to Calabar, to tone down my energy and feed that calmness into any given situation, it's Dixie. If only Calabar could recognize her positive influence, he might not glare at her when he sees us together. 

Actually, he seems to have realized something lately. Or I am channeling calmness and confidence better thanks to my small part in helping Dixie survive her stall-rest without further injury--either physical or mental. She required stillness from her handlers to offset the energy rippling under her skin--energy trapped in a 12x12 box with nowhere to go except circling to stir up poop, hay and shavings, banging into walls or snaking a well-placed nip at an unsuspecting stall cleaner. She was not easy to handle inside or outside her stall which made it that much more important to remain relaxed and confident, not chastise her for being herself and simply give her a safe place to go with all that fire in her soul that made her the winning racehorse she was.

Dixie says this is way better than a stall.
And we did it--she is now the picture of a relaxed ranch horse, watching the happenings around her with a calm eye and getting ready to school us all on how to properly motivate a smart horse like her. 

Dixie the Neigh Savers model.
Through all of that, I've come out the other side a little more sure of my own abilities and a little less nervous about my own horse because Dixie helped me "get" him better. Working on my seat, riding with more symmetry (or as much as my crooked self can manage) is also helping, but the increased peace inside me seems to be translating to him the most. His eye is softer, his body more relaxed and he is asking me to do more each time we ride. Even at dinner time, even when he's hanging out with Forrest, he comes up to me ready to go ride.

Sorry, Forrest--Mom is here and it's time to go ride!
Oh, there is still much more work to be done--horsemanship is never be a finished work, always a work-in-progress and more to learn even with the horse you know best. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Good year for horses, bad year for blogging

This year is flying by--so fast and so full of fantastic experiences with the vastly different horse personalities in my life that the documentation side of this likely life-long project has come to a screeching halt.

I see you with those other horses. Don't think I don't.
Yep. I think we can safely--possibly officially--say horses will be an ongoing work-in-progress for me.

Today--after a brief but slightly terrifying stint of shopping--I got to play with both of my own horses, which was quite a treat. We just took them to the round pen, but Lena Rey showed just how fast and balanced she can be in a tight circle. Both ways. Round and round she went until she began to relax and stretch down, which was the goal. Well, the goal for me anyway. Lena wanted to go for a nice trail ride on the beach but holiday weekends on the coast are not great for feeling safe when pulling a horse trailer. Vacationing hordes do not make for stress-free hauling. Trust me.

Then on to Bar, who walked up to me and practically shoved his face into his halter. "Finally you're going to play with ME! Yay!"

He's really not neglected, he just thinks he is.

He started out relaxed and got even more relaxed, dropping his head into a perfect perpendicular and licking and chewing through all three gaits. What he really wanted was to do some more jumping like we did the other night but sadly there were chores at home to do and one of us is new at her job and has to work Sunday and Monday. Bah. It would be much worse if I didn't love my job. Of course, winning the lottery would not be so bad, either.

But until then, I balance all my equine friends as best I can--trying to be sure everyone gets at least a little of my attention.

The blog, on the other hand, needs some TLC. And soon. I just have to find a teensy bit more time in the day. Week. Month?

Eh, it will happen. Eventually. Right?

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Back to the basics with a bit of a twist

I have not been riding as consistently as Calabar and I need and riding sporadically--in addition to not reinforcing the things we need to work on--always brings out my aches and pains.

Eating and no riding makes Bar a muddy, chubby horse
I have a twist. My pelvis rotates up and to the right, seemingly of its own accord. Old injury, habitual muscular-skeletal protection, new injuries--all of it combine to torque my spine in new and interesting ways. Ways that my horse in all his glorious and sensitive nature notices with varying degrees of response depending on his mood and level of patience.  Ways that reinforce the problems in both horse and rider and can lead to less productive riding and--more importantly--less fun.

This is not an excuse, merely an observation of the facts as we now know them. Working in a chiropractic office offers new opportunities to both observe and maybe even begin to correct (as best we can) my own confirmational faults and in doing so, be a better rider and maybe even help make my horse a more balanced horse.

My chiropractor-in-chief gave me a chapter to read that illustrates common equestrian chiropractic complaints. Lo and behold, many of them sounded extremely familiar. "Oh, that explains the bruise I get there sometimes," and "Hm, that is something that hurts all the time." Several of the illustrations in the article were from a book I own and had not opened in awhile--Centered Riding by Sally Swift.

Oh, how two worlds can sometimes collide in very good ways.

So I gave my chiropractor that book (he has several equestrian clients) and then started practicing on Calabar. My horse was amazed at my more evenly balanced seat bones and I had his full attention while I sent my legs to the ground like roots and imagined a ball in my pelvis. Ears on me the whole time. "So nice you're breathing," he said. "And really nice you're not as hiked up off my spine on the left side. Let's just keep this up, shall we?"

Then, just to add fuel to this fire, I had an adjustment that specifically targeted that twist of mine as well as an extremely inflexible--in the entirely wrong way--left ankle. It appears that dropping the heel as is prescribed is a bit of a chore on that side.

"Oh ho!" said Calabar, "You've been doing something!"

Add to this a (new/used) saddle wide enough for his broad shoulders and suddenly I have a horse with movement that is much more free and loose, movement I'm working hard to mimic as we loosen up his corkscrewed rider.

This horse of mine has taught me many things, sometimes in rather painful ways, but his willingness to participate as I learn to balance us out means we've done a few of those things right along the way.

The smooth canter he gave me--from a walk--with upright, happy ears says so, too.

We have a ways to go, Calabar and me, but the journey is the best part. Especially with happy ears.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

What to do

Recently, someone asked me what I'm doing with my horse and I didn't give a very good answer. There is always a little pressure (mostly in my own mind) about what I *should* be doing and so there is a tendency to feel defensive or get evasive. "Oh, you know, we're working on dressage and just basics."

..and then there are lessons he really doesn't understand
But every day I'm at the barn--which is nearly every day--I'm working on a little something with Bar. Not to mention the other four horses in my circle of equine love, too, but let's start with Bar. Some days, it's just hanging out in his paddock and playing hide and seek. This amuses him. Peek around a tree and watch those big, brown ears perk up as he ducks back and forth around the trunk of a previously-gnawed on (by Clyde) tree. Calabar has a pretty hefty-sized play drive and it's fun to tap into it.

Every ride, I have to think about my position and how it affects him. That ear going back? That means I'm off center. Feel the feet, move with the feet, stop scrunching up on the left side. It's a good thing he's learned to be more tolerant of my corkscrewed body or we'd never get anywhere. Since learning with him is an ongoing journey of (we hope) improvement, pulling in information from good sources is also extremely useful.

After a very informative lunging lesson with my friend Karen and the Sonoma County Neigh Savers volunteer crew, I worked on simple principles of lunging with him. Relax, drop the head and neck, wait for those muscles to start vibrating and for licking and chewing to occur. Then I climbed on bareback and we wandered around the arena over obstacles just for fun. No pressure, just paying attention to feet and my seat. He stops much better when I sit down and ask for a halt without a saddle between us which tells me I have work to do when there is a saddle involved.

After that same session, thinking about what Karen said about teaching contact, I loosened my grip on Calabar's face and let him wander around on a much looser rein. This made him think. A lot. Both-ears-on-me-the-whole-time a lot for the entire ride. He also dropped his head--without ducking into his chest to avoid the bit--and moved into a lovely, swinging walk in a nice frame. Both of us were much less tense, too.

Hmm.

The bonus for me is that what works for Calabar translates nicely to retraining the Neigh Savers horses, too. He reminds me to never be in a hurry and to be clear. He reminds me to have fun. Above all, he reminds me to never stop trying to communicate and to reward the try. Preferably with carrots, but a good snuggle is almost as effective a reward as is a carrot.

That is what I'm doing with my horse. Maybe it's not prepping for competition, but it still fills my soul and makes me smile each and every day when I see that white crescent moon shining between two big brown eyes.

There will always be more for us to do, more to learn, more correctness to achieve. But sometimes it's nice to just enjoy the warmth of him against my heart and thank the universe for bringing him into my life.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Bar settles in

Bar pauses between bites to survey the driveway action
It's been about two weeks since we moved Bar and he seems to have settled in. He isn't even any harder to catch, meeting me at his gate every time, ready to see what we're up to next. He gets a little anxious when his neighbor Forrest is out, and Forrest gets a little anxious when Calabar is out, which is a little new for the two of them. Calabar (with a few exceptions) wasn't worried when Lena was out and Forrest never cared if someone took one of his earlier neighbors out. Somehow, it seems they know they are part of our weird little herd.

When we do work, Calabar is giving me more of his attention and seems to be trying extra hard to be good and listen and do what I ask. I can't tell yet if this is a side-effect from the move or if the nicer, warmer weather is mellowing him. It doesn't really matter--I'll take it however it comes.

One of the things that followed us, however, is his preference to face inward in the cross-ties. I thought he preferred it in the upper barn because there is a mare up there that kicks and makes ugly faces and he likes to face her rather than having her behind him. So I tied him facing out towards the driveway the first time I tacked him up in the lower barn. He fidgeted, which he hasn't done in a very long time. We got through it, but the next time, I faced him towards the long middle aisle, looking out towards the far off end of the barn and he cocked a back foot and sighed contentedly. Maybe he just doesn't like not seeing all those horses behind him and he knows what's in the driveway?

Weird big brown horse teaches me something new every day. Love him.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Calabar--Alpha Mare or disgruntled stallion?

Calabar is very concerned about his herd. Very. Concerned. He is also jealous. Does this make him a stallion--at least in his own mind since he is lacking certain stallion parts--or an alpha mare? My horse psychology is in need of a tune-up in the area of herd-dynamics so I'm not entirely sure.

Calabar in babysitting mode
He watches my every move when it I am with other horses. Other horses besides Lena, that is. When I am with Lena, his ENTIRE focus is on Lena. This is also crossing over a little bit to Dixie, though he wavers between concern for Dixie and jealousy over Dixie when it comes to me--all depending on who is holding Dixie's lead rope.

We saw some of this with his concern over who was riding and handling Lena after the bad person did both badly and the next person came along and had to prove herself worthy before the big brown horse would relax.

I frequently get stared at when handling Dixie or Cash and not his royal Calabar-highness, eyes leveled down between the pipe panel observing with annoyance as I took one or the other out to graze, work or groom.

But last week, when someone else took Dixie out and walked her around--BTM, before the move-- Calabar became over-protective watchful horse. Totally still, totally focused on what this new person might be doing with his little bay mare.

After the recent changes, Calabar is not between his two mares and has only Forrest to watch over and Forrest is often too busy hanging out with the mules behind him, enjoying his wide open, woodsy paddock. Forrest is also pretty sure he does not need supervision from bossy-pants-Calabar.

Last night, I had Clyde in the lower barn pointed out towards Calabar's new paddock. I was picking Clyde's feet and anointing them with iodine when I peered out upside down between my own knees. There was my horse, white crescent moon spot glowing at me as the light outside began to fade because he was facing me, watching me. Every. Move. I. Made.

I had no choice after I put Clyde away but to take Calabar out and work him, play with him, rub his brown head and tell him how much I loved him and that his is still my most favorite big brown ex-racehorse in the entire world. He mostly believed me. It helped that today he did not see ME holding Clyde's lead rope. Nope. Not me. This is not my favorite big brown ex-racehorse, Calabar. YOU are. See? Someone else is leading him around, not me.

Allison and Clyde discussing "the bubble"
It may have helped slightly that Clyde was very interested in what Calabar might have to say about the two ladies up top, but we didn't let them have that conversation.

So, Calabar.. what are Lena's favorite flowers?
Tonight, after adventures with Clyde and Dixie, I took Lena out to let her blow off some steam in the round pen. (Calabar and I romped last night.) Then, thinking it would be nice for them, I took her over to say hello. He whinnied and was very excited. She sniffed noses with him and they said hello before I took her back up top. I had a conversation with someone, gathered up my camera and a few other odds and ends, and went back down to say goodbye to Calabar. Who was a little hot and sweaty. Like he'd run around upset over something. Or some big spotted someone.

It may be only minor consolation to Calabar that Dixie does not like Clyde very much--there is much ear pinning and posturing between them--and made goo-goo eyes at Calabar when she saw him. He saw her and watched us, but did not get quite as excited as when he saw Lena. This of course makes sense since Lena and Calabar have been together for over five years and Dixie is only the newest female addition to the herd.

Hey! I know him! Why is he way down here?
Clyde has yet to be accepted, says Calabar. And if I were to allow an introduction, I'm pretty sure it would look something like this photo below of my big, brown, possessive horse.

Yes, that is Calabar on the left telling Romeo these are his mares. (Manna and me, or at least me.)
So my guess is Calabar is more of a stallion, despite the apparent worry and watchful nature that seem to me to be more alpha mare traits.

Calabar says that he is supposed to be master of the herd and all of these changes have left him quite upset. On the plus side, the changes have also left him more focused and reliant on me, making our training sessions a wee bit more productive.

Guess that makes me the alpha mare, Calabar. I'll take care of you and everyone else, just don't bite anyone. Especially me.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Change it up

Most horses--like most cats, dogs and humans--can have a hard time with change. Calabar is no different and may in fact be a little bit more hard over on the "I like it this way" side of things. Nevertheless, in all things the only constant is change. And in this case, it was a matter of one horse's change leading to a big change for my own big brown horse.

Our newest rehab, Lucky Culprit, is a drop-dead gorgeous 17 hand Off-Track Thoroughbred. He is drool worthy. Seriously. But.. he was a bit nervous about switching from his tried and true routine at the track to this wide open paddock in the boonies of Sebastopol. To counteract his change of scenery and switch to this more rural lifestyle, he amused himself by chewing on the trees in his new wide open paddock. .

Lucky Culprit (Clyde) and his buddy Karen
This is not a productive use of an OTTBs time and the barn owner prefers that trees stay standing, especially since they provide shelter and shade for said paddock.

The facility is, however, full--unless we were to put Lucky (aka Clyde) in a stall which seemed like a not so good plan--so we needed another alternative. In this case, it was swapping Clyde with Calabar which seemed like a simple solution.

Simple to us, not so much to Calabar.

"Where am I?!" "Why am I HERE, wherever that is, and not where I belong?!" Zoom, zoom, spin, buck, rear, repeat.



I admit this is my fault. He has been in the same paddock for five years, followed roughly the same routine and watched the barn activity from the same vantage point the whole time. Might have been good to change things up a little but, as they say, hindsight does not need glasses.

Clyde settled in nicely between Lena and Dixie and the two mares threw Calabar over like an old pair of dancing shoes. Hopefully, Calabar won't know this since he is across the property from all the shameless flirting.

This was not the birthday present my horse envisioned. (He turned 13 yesterday--yep, April Fools day. It suits him.) Carrot cake, apples, jumping over things--all of this would have been acceptable. A whole new place in space? Not so much.

He took two days or so to settle in and is still in super watchful mode. He does appreciate being the first horse everyone greets when they pull in and the last horse they wave to on their way out. But. Forrest is not Lena. The mules next door are weird looking. He has to learn a whole new routine and it is unsettling. He is unsettled. Or he was. Today I noticed a very large, flattened place in the mud with a roughly Calabar-shaped outline indicating nappage. It coincided with the evenly-placed mud on the Thoroughbred who moseyed up to me to get his treats.

He is still concerned. I get a giraffe every now and then--head up, eyes wide--but it's a little less every day. On the plus side, he is turning to me for comfort and guidance and Clyde seems to have given up chewing in favor of flirting, so perhaps this will be a good learning tool for all of us.

In the meantime, I am reassuring Calabar with routine--still doing the same stuff, just starting from a slightly different place at the farm.

I think in the long run (or maybe even the short it will be good for him. It is in fact something we should have done with him before, if only to break up the herd-bound behavior between Lena and Calabar.

Back to hindsight and better vision.

Just when I think I've had an epiphany, something smacks me in the back of the head and reminds me how much more I have to learn. In this case, it's two big, brown Off-TrackThoroughbreds showing me this piece of the universe I've missed.

Not such bad teachers as it turns out--not so bad at all.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Time flies when..

Well, maybe time just flies as you get older. And busier. And more interested in fuzzy noses than time in front of the computer.

Fuzzy noses are way better than most things digital, I have to say.

My favorite fuzzy nose
And there are plenty of fuzzy noses to smooch these days. Calabar (still number one, I swear), Lena, Dixie and now Lucky Pulpit, aka Clyde. Forrest gets smooches, too, but he is way more interested in food than kisses from me.

But lest you think my horses are as neglected as my blog, I will provide photographic proof that is not the case.

Calabar's weight (after a bit of a struggle this winter) is looking really good. In fact, someone called him "almost chubby" the other day. I can still feel his ribs. Mostly. Under a fine layer of, um, muscle I think.

Dirty, healthy Thoroughbred
Lena looks great, as always, and despite what she told me tonight, is getting enough attention. Maybe not as much riding as she needs or as much grazing as she wants, but there is never quite enough of either as far as she is concerned.

Obviously, a concerted rolling effort took place here.
Dixie continues to expand her horizons in the outdoor world. She watches the barn happenings, plays with her neighbors and supervises pen cleaning with a practiced eye. Now that she is out of a stall, her appetite has increased ten-fold and she is finally putting on weight. Her face and eye have softened, too, and--now that she's well-healed--we are beginning to work on the next steps towards not being a racehorse.

I'm so cute, how can you resist me?
At the risk of making it look like Dixie is my favorite, I have to include one more shot of her. Maybe two. No. I'm not keeping her.

Love the soft eye and happy ears. 
Dixie-out-of-the-stall is a completely different horse than Dixie-in-the-stall. She says she likes it this way. A lot. With mud especially.

Dixie the muddy ranch pony
Clyde is still getting used to the out-of-the-stall thing, but he is adapting nicely and, as my friend Karen says: "Hubba, hubba." He is the very definition of tall, dark and handsome PLUS he moves beautifully. He's not altogether sure about what his new job is, yet, but he wants one.

Can you say Dressage horse in the making? I can.
So, as you can see I have plenty keeping me away from the computer screen even above and beyond my day job (which I also love.)

Bar and Lena are definitely not up for adoption, but both Dixie and Clyde are and I am happy to share my addiction (and nose smooches) with anyone who is interested. I'm just glad to have these horses wander through my life on their way to new homes and careers. 

Feeling busy but lucky--which is not too bad as life goes. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The true power of a horse

Horses are great gifts in a life often too full of distractions and disruptions, things that throw up roadblocks to being able to find peace and quiet in my own soul. Besides the instant relaxation that hits me with the first whiff of warm horse, there is what comes next: the teaching, the learning, the quiet realization that you are accepted for who you are and how you treat them, that they will give you back what you give to them without strings, that you will always know where you stand with them because they are incapable of dishonesty.

What are you doing back there? My itch is up here.
It is all of that and more that keeps me coming back to them day after day, what continues to reward me in sometimes small and sometimes huge ways. They remind me of who I really want to be every time I look into a big, brown eye and decide what to do next because if I am in doubt or unsure, they know it. If I am doing something that feels wrong to me, they know it. If I have not gained the trust required to ask them to do the next thing, we cannot move forward together--and together is the only thing that works with a horse.

And being that they are giant fuzzy bio-feedback devices, it is hard to mistake when things go astray.

A horse is a powerful being in and of itself--designed in every fiber of its being to move with grace guiding coiled strength. To ride a horse is to connect with that energy, feel it flow beneath you and--if you are a more gifted rider than I usually am--flow with it. I do not disparage myself out of modesty or because I'm fishing for compliments--it is merely because my goal is to have that feeling on a more regular basis. This may require an amount of letting go I've not yet achieved but would like to. Some days are better than others and some days I manage to surprise myself.

Hello, I love you won't you give me a carrot?
There is the obvious stuff, like body position and balance--those things confuse the horse trying to do what they think you want and offer the opportunity to lazy their way out of something for the horse that does not want to do what they think you want.

This is now a vintage shot -- 2007 -- of Lena and me.
I have a pelvic twist--up and to the right--that means my left seat bone is sometimes not in the saddle when I think it is. Or rather it's not there when I'm not thinking about pushing down into my seat bones evenly. This happens a lot. Some days, Calabar and Lena ignore this. Some days, we are suddenly moving in circles when I'm pretty sure I haven't asked for it. Except my butt has asked for it and they now decide that's what I want. Apparently, my horses want to be chiropractors.

Not sure this is a circle yet, but we are getting there  now
They are also amazingly good at reminding you what is real and important. Just a hint--it is not necessarily returning a text message the second you receive it. Unless you really want to try texting while flying through the air. I'm sure some people can text and ride at the same time, but Calabar has every right to expect my full attention if I'm going to ask him to do trot circles instead of enjoy his pile of hay at dinner time.

But beyond the healthy (in my opinion) side-effect of taking a break from modern technology for an hour or so, there is the grounding that comes from breathing in the smells and basking in the aura of a being who does not care that you were a nerd in high school or that you still bite your fingernails and beat yourself up for this bad habit. Do you treat them with consistency and kindness? Do you represent something positive in their life? They are quick to answer that question--especially when you don't have food in your hand--by coming up to the gate to greet you and pointing happy ears in your direction, by poking their nose into the halter before you even get it unraveled, by not bucking you off when you ask something that doesn't make sense or that does not take them closer to the gate and the aforementioned dinner.

Dixie is the definition of power and grace--and she will indeed demand all your attention. NO. I am not keeping her. I swear. I think.
One of my volunteers said to me today that being around the horses has been so good for her. The simple act of picking up poop is not just good, basic physical exercise, it is an act that has clear and definite objectives that are easily completed. The poop is here, now it is in the cart, now it is in the poop pile and no longer in the stall. There are no office politics involved (or if there are, you are at the wrong barn), there are no delicate dances around sensitive topics. There is poop or there is no poop. (Though in Dixie's case, getting to the no poop side is a challenge worthy of the most meticulous stall cleaner and I'm not that person.)

"Are you sure you got all the poop?"
Really horses are a lot like that in most things. Each horse is different and each horse requires a slightly different approach, but in their world it is fairly black and white. The puzzle comes in figuring out where that line lies with each horse, then knowing how to balance on it and get the results you want while not killing the joy for either of you.

That's right--either of you.

We saw--only once, thankfully--the joy killed in one of our own horses. We allowed someone we thought had experience to ride Lena and assumed she would toss anyone who was too rough with her. We were wrong, dreadfully wrong, and our beautiful, gregarious mare who walks up and sticks her nose in the halter stopped doing that very thing. She walked away from you, into the back corner of her paddock, and shied away from the gate. That led very quickly to that person not riding her again, though not as quickly as we still wish it had been. That person tried to to control Lena without getting her cooperation, without giving her the opportunity to try and learn--even if she got it wrong sometimes--and he shut her down, turned her joy inside out into fear. Thankfully, she has recovered and is now quite happy to come out and play. The damage was not permanent though the lesson (for us, at least) definitely was.

Trail shadows are good shadows
Giving up the illusion of control for the greater joy of harmony and balance is another good trick horses can teach us. I know that my control over Calabar is only as good as the deal we make minute to minute and that is based on what we've built along the way and sometimes a quick refresher course. He does not have time for my ego, nor does he care if he hurts my feelings. This is something we sometimes forget with horses, but even more often with other humans. Our goals and what drives us--sometimes not such good things eating at us--become our focus, regardless of those around us. Horses have very direct ways to remind us we are not paying attention--the ground can be a very hard thing, after all--but humans wrap things up in emotions and what is pushing at them, rather than stepping back and saying, "What could I do to change this situation in a positive way? What is my responsibility?"

Calabar saying he is not comfortable with this particular situation
That is the power of my fuzzy brown mirror, anyway, all versions of it--teak brown, spotty, bay and whatever comes next. They are amazingly quick at letting me know when--though not necessarily how--I've gotten it so incredibly wrong without hitting me with their own baggage. Or maybe it's just that their baggage really doesn't matter much because right now is more important. They certainly don't care about my bad day--unless it affects what we're doing--so why don't we just move on from here? And really, there is only feel and patience and working together NOW to get to the next thing anyway.

Horses offer us the simplest path to ourselves if we are only willing to open up and follow it. They can teach you to listen, to feel, to accept, to learn and how to just be in the moment with yourself. Life is short, even if it's long, and every moment is a chance to make it better.

Dixie says outside is better than inside and thanks for the poop clean-up , too.