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.


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.