Monday, December 29, 2008

Impressed

Anyone who has been around horses for awhile has certainly heard the "I'll keep in contact, see how you two get along," comment when a horse is sold. It's usually just an expected nicety the seller utters to make the sale. No one really expects the former owner to check up on the horse he/she sold.

And in the Thoroughbred industry, breeders and trainers who don't keep track of their horses after is sale is pretty common. They just want the non-money makers out of the barn and off the expense sheet as soon as possible so they can get a wage-earner in that spot. Some race tracks in the east have even started penalizing and banning trainers whose horses are found in kill pens at auctions. Good for them for making them responsible for the horses they are "ditching."

Anyway, when I bought Gabe his owner said she'd keep in contact and would like updates on him. I kept in contact the first month and the second month, I sent her photos and kept her updated on his progress. Then I just kind of forgot about it.

Last night she called me, inquiring about him, asking how he's doing, how we are getting along and requesting some more pictures of him.

That just doesn't happen often enough, especially in the world of race horses.

You bet I was THRILLED to talk about the newest love of my life. People at work have learned not to ask about my horses. *grin* They get more information than they really wanted. Hehe! She got all the silly details about his delightful personality, I filled her in on his progress and about how much my entire family has come to just adore the big wonderful guy and I think she was more than happy to listen to me gush about him for awhile.

Thank goodness for the few out there in the horse industry who are like her...the ones who truly do care where their horses end up when they just don't fit into their particular program any longer. When I went out to look at him (and subsequently put a downpayment on him) she said she absolutely adored him, but knew he didn't like his job as a racehorse.

"I just can't keep asking him to do a job he hates," she explained. "I know he has the ability to do it, I know he can run, he just doesn't want to. His heart isn't in it. I couldn't imagine what it would be like to wake up every morning to do a job I hated and I don't want to do that to him."

Truer words never spoken. I just hope he likes his new job as a pleasure horse more than he liked racing!

Friday, December 26, 2008

The season of ice

The horses got a special, hot holiday meal Christmas morning. I discovered over Thanksgiving that all three LOVE sweet potatoes...perhaps even more than carrots and apples. Which is cool since sweet potatoes have been on sale lately so I can get tons of them for almost nothing.

I chopped up a bunch of sweet potatoes, some carrots, a few apples and drizzled molasses over the whole mess. That got mixed in with their morning meal of hot beet pulp mash and feed. Talk about some happy ponies! Gabe discovered the extra treats right away and wasn't going to move his head out of his bucket for nuthin'!

Because of the mud and ice I haven't ridden for about two weeks. Christmas Day dawned chilly but sunny, and warmed up just above freezing by early afternoon so I thought Kayleigh and I would go for a little ride. I knew we wouldn't be able to do much as the creek is over it's banks, blocking some of our trails, the neighboring fields are off limits until hunting season is over and my upper pasture/field is flooded and frozen. Little did I know we would be stuck just riding up and down the driveway. I thought for sure we'd be able to use the short, hilly trail around the woods, but it was too dangerous. This is how crappy our weather has been. We've had rain or sleet or freezing rain every third or fourth day since the end of October. That means the mud is DEEP. Then it got cold and stayed cold, so the mud froze DEEP. Which is okay, as long as it's just frozen mud. But, wait! There's more! Because the mud is frozen solid any rain we get doesn't sink in to the dirt, it sits ON TOP...and then freezes. On everything. The hills on the outer trail were ice. The horses have churned up the mud pretty good in their paddocks, so they have good grip there. Sure, they have to pick their way slowly around the paddocks like a bunch of cripples, but it keeps them from acting like morons and falling on ice. I can't even turn them out in the fields to give them some time to really stretch because the fields are a solid sheet of ice, even under the grass. No grip at all there. And because it got a bit warm yesterday, a thin layer of mud and ice thawed over the frozen mud, so, it was a whole lot like trying to walk across snot on glass.

I couldn't even work Gabe. I pulled him out and groomed and was going to take him up to work him in the pasture when he started acting silly and slipping everywhere. I think he hit just about every frozen puddle from his paddock to the hitching post and slid on each one. There were a couple of moments when I thought he was going to attempt to do the splits. Scary! So, he just got groomed, fussed over and put back in his paddock where the footing is like a mine field but at least it's not slick. I know he wants to run and buck and fart and be a goof, but not quite yet. He'd slip on the ice and break a leg.

I'd much prefer snow to all the rain we've gotten. At least snow packs and we can ride in snow. We can't do much of anything in this mud and ice. And it looks like it's not going to end any time soon. We are currently under a flood watch. In December. Flood. As in LOTS of water. The main road that takes us through the bottoms and into civilization was flooded this morning and barely passable. By tonight it will be completely impassable and I'll have to go around. That adds about 15-20 minutes to my commute. Woo hoo! Winter in the Mississippi River Valley is fabulous!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Remembering Blaze

When I was a kid we almost always had snow for Christmas. Not like here, where we usually have mud or ice.

We had snow nearly all winter long. Deep snow. The kind of deep, cold snow you can only get in Kansas. The kind that drifts and packs well. I remember spending a good portion of my Christmas break with my little brown pony, Blaze.

That little Shetland-cross became my new best friend when I was in third grade and she stayed with my family until my senior year. I had long outgrown her and she had been standing around doing nothing and really missing the daily loving she had grown used to over the years. So, my mom found her a home with a family and another horse-crazy kid to teach some life-long lessons to.
I know there are TONS more pictures of Blaze out there, but my mom has them. This is one of my favorites and displayed on my wall. Any guesses where she got her oh so original name? Please excuse the quality..it's a photo of a photo. I don't have a scanner.

Blaze was just as crazy as me, maybe a bit more. She wasn't really well-broke when I got her, but that pony really taught me how to ride. It's probably a good thing I was absolutely fearless or I would have never enjoyed her as much as I did. She taught me how to dismount at a full gallop and cling to a runaway pony cart. She taught me patience by staying just out of reach in the pasture when I tried to catch her and she decided she didn't really want to be caught. She taught me humility when she dumped me in mud puddles out on the trail and left me to walk back to the barn. Or swam out to the middle of Breakneck Lake and left me standing on shore, waiting for her to be done with her little swim and allow me to catch her. She taught me how to think quickly about all possible outcomes when she ran away with me and no amount of pulling or yelling at her would engage the brakes. I learned how to duck, fast, when she aimed straight for the lowest branch. She could go English, Western, bareback, Indian-style (you know, just a loop of rope around her bottom jaw) and could drive.

We went to western shows, English shows, fox-hunted, went trail riding, went swimming, went driving and jumped every obstacle imaginable on the old cavalry training field at Ft. Riley.

During the winter we'd trail ride in the snow bareback. When the snow was deep and slick enough enough and my sister willing enough, I'd put the western saddle on that rotund little pony, find a really long rope and tie the disk sled to the saddle. I was the driver in the saddle, my sister, the sucker on the sled. My goal was to whip her right off that sled with crazy fast riding, hairpin turns, spins and leaps over ditches.

You'd think that after a few winters of such "sleigh rides" my sister would get a clue and refuse to be the sucker on the sled. Or maybe I was just a bit intimidating and coerced her into going sledding with me.

She was the driver in the saddle a few times, but her style of driving was far too tame for me so I'd try to take over the reins. Blaze could drive and of course I tried driving her while sitting on the sled. Did I mention she could become a runaway pony in seconds? Talk a ride that would take the skin right off your teeth!

I don't know how my mother survived my pony years. If it was conceivable, I would try it, no matter how hair-brained or insane it might be. And back then helmets were for shows only. Heck, during the summer, riding in a pair of shoes was pushing it. Bareback in short shorts and a tube top, barefoot, with just a thin rope looped around Blaze's jaw was how I spent the summer.

She taught me how to ride fearlessly and with passion. Her intolerance for bad riding taught me to be a thinking rider with compassion for my partner. She was the foundation of my passion and love for all things equine.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Wind whipped and mudified

It's only December and I already hate this winter. It's muddy. It's cold. It's windy. And of course, we have these wonderful periods of icy rain and sleet that just make outside chores and driving a delight.

I haven't been able to do much of anything with the horses. I hate that. I just want to ride and I want to play with Gabe. I did get him out for a drive yesterday, even with the 45 mph winds snatching the lines and whipping them around bringing tears to my eyes. He was prancy and jiggy, but for the most part good. The wind was certainly not helping our communication through the lines and our steering is still sticky. But, I drove him down the driveway, further than he'd been, and let him look around at all the "new" stuff. He was definitely interested in the cows across the way! We practiced halting and speeding up, slowing down our gaits as well as turning left and right. It takes him a bit of time to turn and at the moment he handles more like a tank than a Porsche. No power steering on this baby! But we are installing power steering as well as air brakes...slowly but surely.

Kayleigh and I went for a short ride on Saturday. It was, once again, windy as heck and cold, making for a cold, not very enjoyable ride. The horses were being silly and snorting at everything and the footing was slick and swampy. I wish the mud would just freeze and stay frozen instead of this back and forth between crispy top layer and slimy, sucking under-layer of mud.

Calypso has not shown any more signs of lameness at all, so I'm thinking she just hit a "funny bone" or twisted something. Thank goodness!

My horses were not overly fond of the last load of hay we brought home. It was grass hay, no alfalfa in it at all. It was okay quality hay, not moldy or musty, but not nice and green and soft. Kind of stemmy with lots of fescue in it. They really don't like the fescue much at all. So, they aren't eating it all and I've had to feed MORE of it to make sure they are getting enough. Gabe is being particularly pissy about eating this hay. He has a TON out there, but he's turning it into bedding instead of eating it. The other two are eating it better, but not finishing it off like they should. They are picking through it. It kind of pisses me off. I paid the same amount for this hay as I do for the nicer hay, but I'm having to feed twice as much to make sure they are getting the same amount of calories, nutrition and bulk. Plus, having to feed a little bit more because it's been cold. So, at the end of it all, I went through this last load of hay almost twice as fast as I planned. Grrr. I'll have enough to get us through Wednesday and I'm crossing my fingers that my hay guy will 1) have a better load of hay in the barns and 2) be willing to set up a weekday appointment so I can go pick up a load. He usually prefers to do all his hay dealings on the weekend but I'm hoping he'll work with me. If not, I'm going to have to buy a couple of bales from friends, which I hate doing, but you do what you have to.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Catching up

The world, it's froze. The mud, it's froze. My hands and nose, they're froze. But Gabe, Chief and Calypso? They are FUZZY and warm!

Robert finally got the roof on Gabe's run-in Wednesday afternoon (yay!) and I bedded it with straw. Robert insisted that Gabe wouldn't use it, he'd just stand out in the elements and the run-in would go to waste. I assured him he was wrong, he was convinced he was right.

Care to guess who was correct? Any guesses? No? Okay, I'll tell ya. I was right! I went out to feed this morning and Gabe's fuzzy coat had all kinds of straw stuck to it. His tail is twined with straw and I could tell where he bedded down in the run-in last night. Yay! I knew he'd use it. Do I know that silly horse or what?

I am absolutely hating this weather. It has been so cloudy, overcast and dark out for the past couple of weeks that I haven't been able to get crap done with any of the horses. Kayleigh and I rode three days in a row over Thanksgiving break and it was fabulous. Of course, it rained the last two days of our break. Boo! Kayleigh is really taking after her ole mom...she refuses to ride with a saddle when it's cold out. I can't say I blame her, Chief's fuzzy back is MUCH warmer than her saddle. She's even trotting bareback and getting much, much more confident in her riding skills.

Something really weird happened to Calypso after one of our rides. We had a nice, easy ride and were out for almost an hour riding through the fallow fields and our woods. She was good, Chief was good. It was windy and chilly, but not horrid. We got back, untacked, groomed and grazed them on the frozen grass then put them back in the paddock. Calypso was fine. Immediately after we turned them out I went back inside to get their dinners ready and came back out to feed. It wasn't more than 5 minutes between turn out and feeding and in that time Calypso was drag-leg lame on her front right. She wouldn't put much weight on it and she couldn't seem to bend the knee at all. I felt for heat or swelling and checked to make sure she hadn't picked up a rock. Nothing. She ate fine and her respiration and heart rate were normal for her. About an hour or so after her being three-legged lame, she was fine. No indication at all that she couldn't walk just 60 minutes earlier. Odd. I wonder if she twisted it trotting down to her feed tub, or maybe Chief kicked her in those scant five minutes? I dunno. I have been keeping an eye on her in the meantime and checking for heat, swelling or a racing pulse in her feet, nothing.

It almost feels like this nasty weather and the shorter days are in cahoots against me. Every time I think I'll be able to get out and work or ride Gabe, it turns nasty or the ground is frozen. I have a feeling this winter is going to be very, very long and very, very frustrating for me in terms of working with Gabe and getting him ready for spring riding. *sigh* Such is life, I suppose.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Entertaining Gabe

Sometimes we just like to play with Gabe. No work, no expectations. Just a little play time. He has a couple of bleach bottles in his paddock. They have stones in them. He likes to shake 'em and crush 'em and toss 'em. He even has a couple of balls out there to play with. Because it's not just a paddock, it's a toy room!

And he LOVES the attention. He loves Kayleigh. He loves every body. Can you believe it's the end of November, in the Midwest and my kid is in SHORTS? Crazy global warming.


He even loves his water!Splish splash! He isn't one of those dainty lip drinkers. He dunks his face in the tank...this summer, he'd dunk past his nostrils and blow bubbles.



Don't get too close to Gabe and his noodle! He will whack ya with it. Wow. He's dirty. Why do I always get the horses who LOVE their mud baths? Ugh.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

An award

Look what Nuzzling Muzzles gave to me!



You know what's funny about blogs? I've "met" so many wonderful horsewomen through their blogs, and I would LOVE to go riding with them or just sit down for a cuppa (or a beer!) and talk horse for hours. I have a few 'horsie' friends near me, but in some ways our horse philosophies are very different and at times, those philosophies can create a bit of friction. Not too much, mind you, but sometimes it's hard to keep my mouth shut when one of those friends keeps doing the same silly (or dumb) thing over and over and over again and then wonders why her horse won't behave for her. I just keep my mouth shut and compliment her new boots/chaps/saddle pad/bridle.

We horse people are an interesting bunch. You either get it and love it, or you don't. It's a way of life, and ultimately, the way we treat and train our horses reflects on our own lives and how we treat those around us.

Reading Nuzzling Muzzles' progress with her own horses, and how she responds to the trials she faces in their training, speaks volumes to me about the kind of person she is. She's the kind of person I'd love to go for a nice, long, relaxing trail ride with.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A mini barn-raising

What we have here is an almost completed run-in shed for the Gabe-ster. You know, the one he has made nearly impossible to build because he keeps stealing tools and various other supplies? Or just gets in the way and makes a complete pain in the butt of himself?



Robert is now calling him "Your big toddler." Because that's what he is. A great big, curious, pain in the patootie toddler! But he's such a cute toddler!


All that's left to do is put on the roof, paint the sides and throw about six inches of crushed rock in there. We are using SunTuf for the roofing. I picked dark green panels and they are opaque to let in a little bit of light. I think horses are more likely to use a run-in on their own if it doesn't look too much like a great big cave...light helps make it more inviting. Because the panels are a polycarbonate material it's cheaper, and lighter, than steel roofing. Plus, tons easier to install! It's rated to handle the snow/ice in our area and also warranted against hail damage, which is a bonus! The sides will be painted barn red.

We expect to get it done Thursday or Friday. Gabe is already checking it out and I've busted him chasing the chickens out of his new house. I guess he doesn't like visitors!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The dangly bits

I've always owned mares. Gabe is the first gelding I've had of my very own. Most of my friends have geldings, my family had geldings when I was growing up and I know what a pain in the bottom gelding hygienic care can be. With mares you just hose off their girly parts, pick the gunk out from their udder and you're good to go. No fuss, no muss.

Geldings, they pull all their boy dangly bits up where you can't get to 'em. You either have to wait for them to hang their boy bits out in the breeze so you can grab and go, or, you have to have a vet out to use pharmaceuticals to encourage them to dangle for all the world to see.

We were working on Gabe's run-in shed again today and he presented the perfect chance for me to check and see how clean his boy bits were. Standing there next to me, content with a good scratching and lots of attention, he dropped and relaxed. So, I did what any opportunistic gelding owner does, I reached out and grabbed his boy bit to check for a bean and look for general boy part health.

And Alexis squealed with shock and horror. "Mom! I can't believe you just grabbed his PENIS! Oh, gross! Don't you dare touch me with that hand! Ewww!! You have PENIS germs on your hand!" Sixteen year old girls are so funny and so easily grossed out.

I couldn't help it. I laughed and asked her if she would hold it for a second so I could pick some smegma off it. She squealed again and gave me that "Oh My GOD! Mom you are so gross!!!" look.

He was nice and clean, but really didn't care for me messing around with his parts too terribly much.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Love/Hate

Things I LOVE about fall and winter:
1. Cooler nights
2. Cooler days
3. Frost on the grass in the morning
4. Snorty, prancy horses
5. That unmistakable smell of fall leaves
6. The sparkle of ice on tree limbs in the morning sun
7. No bugs
8. No 100-degree, 99% humidity days
9. A crackling fire in the fireplace
10. Fuzzy, soft, fluffy horses

Things I HATE about fall and winter:
1. Short days
2. Early darkness
3. Frozen water troughs
4. Frozen, pitted, hard-to-walk-through paddocks
5. Mud
6. Mud
7. No grass
8. Very little riding (see #1, #2, #5 and #6)
9. Icy roads
10. Power outages

Monday, November 10, 2008

The 6-foot menace

Robert called my horse a great big, toddling brat. More than once. He even threatened to sell him for glue. *gasp!* Poor Gabe was dubbed a turd, a brat, a rotten brat, a spoiled toddler and a snot.

Why would my big, sweet horse garner such awful monikers?

Because he was being all of the above.

We are building a new run-in shed in Gabe's paddock. Saturday Robert and Alexis (my teenager) meticulously measured and staked out the spot where the new run-in is to be built. Robert, who is becoming more and more a horse person every day, realized he couldn't leave the stakes out there in the paddock with Gabe and asked for suggestions to protect the beast from the stakes. I was impressed that he realized all kinds of awful things could happen to a horse left in a paddock with a bunch of wood stakes sticking out of the ground. I suggested inverting used gallon bleach bottles over the stakes to make them more visible and less dangerous.

I thought it was a pretty good idea. Robert and Alexis cut all the tops of the bottles so they would fit over the stakes, slipped a bottle over each stake and considered it good.

Gabe considered the whole thing a brand-new toy. Within minutes that big brat had every. single. bottle. pulled off the stakes and smashed. He smashed them flat with his teeth and with his feet. He tossed them around a bit and tossed them into the air. Once the bottles were flat and no longer fun, he proceeded to yank out every stake out of the ground and toss them willy-nilly around his paddock.

Oh, he had GREAT fun destroying all of their hard work! They were none too pleased with my big goof ball and the name-calling commenced. I think he even got called a steak at one point!

So, back out we went the next day to start on the run-in. Gabe would NOT leave us alone. He was in our faces, resting his head on our backs, nuzzling around in our hair, trying to grab sleeves and coats in his teeth and being a general pain in the butt. He even managed to steal a corner measure, a hammer and a level and take off with them, like a rotten little toddler. Do you have any idea how hard it is to swing a hammer when you have a horse right behind you trying to STEAL the hammer? Ugh.

So, that bugger got tossed out of his own paddock for being a way too curious big ole pain in the butt. I think he was a bit peeved that we kicked him off the playground and he threw a little bucking fit.

But I love him anyway. If he wasn't such a turd, he wouldn't be so much fun!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Frustrated and angry

I am angry. Very angry. I really try not to judge people for their lifestyle, but when their animals are suffering, then I can't help but judge. And be angry.

Earlier this summer I called animal control on my neighbors and made an anonymous report about the condition of their three horses. I never heard anything about the report and the horses are in WORSE condition now than they were over the summer. One fairly young paint mare looks absolutely horrible, she looks more like a walking skeleton than a horse and she has heaves. I've seen what these people feed their horses, I know what kind of conditions they live in and I am completely NOT surprised this poor mare is in as bad condition as she is. The two ponies are a bit better, but not much. I think that if they weren't easy-keeper ponies, they would look just as bad as the mare.

In the past I have tried to casually bring up horse care and feeding with the owner and she's pretty much of the mind that horses can be treated like cattle: Feed 'em whatever, they'll get by. They feed no grain, which isn't a big deal if your horses are in good weight, and they feed round bales, which is fine if the bales are quality hay. These bales are black on the outside, and me (being probably more nosy than I should be), stuck my hand in one of the bales as far as I could go and I pulled out a fistful of black, moldy, dusty, crappy hay that was more weeds and rot than edible substances. They kept their round bales lined up near a fence in a pasture I ride in, so it was pretty easy to check 'em out. They haven't had ANY round bales anywhere on their property for a couple of months, so I don't know if they switched to squares or what. Hay isn't hard to come by this year, but you do have to make an effort to get it, for this family, "effort" is a four-letter word. Their pasture is 100% dirt and weeds, so I know the horses aren't getting any nutrition there. I am afraid to bring up horse care/feeding with these neighbors again. They could be vindictive if they found out I reported them this summer and I worry about my critters being the target of that vindictiveness.

Their horses are fenced in barbed wire, four strands. The two bottom strands are no longer connected to the T-posts in most spots and some of it is just stretched out in the pasture. God. My heart skips a beat or two whenever I see those horses out there walking around the downed wire. I've seen barbed wire wounds...they aren't pretty. They can be absolutely devastating. They have junk, rusting vehicles and various other crap in their pasture. Their yard looks like a used parking lot with two of the vehicles barely visible behind the overgrown weeds.

Okay, so my oldest daughter is friends with this owner's daughter. They are both 16. They used to be really close friends, but a falling out over a boy changed that and they are just casual friends now, they still talk, but I don't see the girl as often as before. Yesterday Alexis (my daughter) tells us that the bad owner's daughter told her the paint mare can no longer be ridden because of the heaves (I'd guess because of her absolute lack of weight, too) and the girl is getting a new horse.

A Thoroughbred. Off. The. Track. The girl NEVER rides, and she's not a very good rider and not a very good horseperson. She obviously doesn't have a very good horseperson to learn proper horse care from if her mother let's their current horses get to the state they are in now. This is a disaster waiting to happen. I can only imagine how bad this poor animal is going to look after he (or she) is in their custody for a month or two. If they can't keep weight on easy-keeper ponies, a Thoroughbred is going to starve to death. Or, she's going to get seriously hurt or killed. She is NOT a good rider. Not at all.

I am pulling my hair out. Obviously animal control has done nothing. I don't know who to call next for the current situation. I really DON'T think I'm overreacting in this case. I know skinny horses and I can definitely tell a skinny horse from a nearly-starved horse. They are nearly-starved, not just skinny.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Where'd the sun go?

I HATE this time change. Hate it. I have exactly 20 minutes of semi-daylight left by the time I get home from work in the evening. This means no riding, no playing with my ponies. Hate it. I can go pet my ponies or give them mini-massages while they eat, and if I hurry home really fast, I can actually see what color they are! Once again, another season of riding on weekends only. Gah. The weather is perfect, comfortable with a bit of a nip in the air and the smell of fall in my nose, and I can't ride because it's too dark. I've thought about one of those mining hats with the light on the front, but that doesn't solve the problem of the horse not being able to really see where he/she is going.

I may, however, have found a solution. Robert and I have talked about putting some lights in around my arena so I can ride when it's dark. But we'd have to run electric and put up poles, and well, between trenching for an underground electric line and hiring an electrician to come in and hook it up to the box at the house, it's a couple thousand, and honestly, lights aren't THAT important at this point.

These are my possible solution. Not terribly expensive and no electric required! The no electric thing also fits into our attempt to live more "green" and work our way towards self-sustainment out here in the boonies.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Gabe vs the Mounting Block

Gabe met the new mounting block on Saturday and after a couple big-eyed snorty looks at it, accepted it just fine. He wanted to eat it more than anything. He licked it a few times, sniffed it and went on with his business.

I spent some time walking up and down the steps, leading him with me and having him just stand next to it while I leaned over him. He didn't want to stand still so well...as soon as he felt weight on his back, he either swung his butt out and away or tried walking off. We spent about 20 minutes working on just standing still before I could lay over his back without him walking off or wiggling around. Progress!

I did this all bareback with just a halter and lead and he was very accepting. He does, however, have a bad habit that will be broken immediately. I've mentioned before how very mouthy he is: He chews on the lead rope while tied, he swings his head around and swipes his saddle pad, he manages to get the longe line or long reins up into his mouth while I'm working him and chews, chews, chews the bit the entire time I'm working him. I'm thinking about investing in a new copper snaffle with a roller to keep his mouth occupied. He even tries to get the bridle into his mouth when I pull it over his head and I busted him chewing on his sheet last week. The turd. When he and Chief are having "conversations" over the fence he likes to grab Chief's halter and just not let go. This is not a good public relations move for him in Chief's mind!

While I was leaning over his back he kept reaching around and sniffing my butt and using that top lip to "snuffle" around...he didn't bite, but I'm pretty sure he would have if I hadn't kept an eye on his antics! Just lifting my foot and moving it towards his nose got the muzzle off my butt.

So, it's a start and the mounting block is the perfect height for him.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Mounting block extraordinaire!

When I asked my overachieving husband to build me a mounting block, I imagined something kind of like this one: He is not the kind of man who does anything half-assed. When he heard "mounting block," he thought something far different than what I had in mind. We weren't on the same "mounting block" page. I thought I had explained to him pretty much what I wanted "like, a few steps that I can stand on to get on."

Okay. Maybe I wasn't very clear in my instructions, that happens a lot.

I must say, while my new mounting "block" isn't exactly what I expected, I am not unhappy with it at all. In fact, it makes a lot of sense for a horse that won't stand stock still while mounting. Have you ever had one of those horses that likes to shift forwards or back, and you have to climb down off the block (or bucket, as I've been using), move the thing, and try again?

Yup, I won't be doing that anymore with this king of all mounting platforms!
It's two and a half feet tall, and the platform itself is 2.5' wide and about 3' long.

The girls like it and Kayleigh seems to think it's her private sunbathing platform and new clubhouse. It's quite roomy underneath! (Please ignore the state of the swimming pool...it hasn't been closed for the season yet and is quite icky.)

Those who know me well know I don't have very conservative tastes when it comes to colors for my horses. I'm all about the purple. I have purple wraps, saddle pads, half chaps, a crochet fly thing for the horses' ears and even a purple dressage whip! So, of course, I had to have a purple mounting platform. There was no question about that. Kayleigh and I spent about an hour giving it two coats of paint.

Ta-da! All ready for use!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Wind Crazies

Ugh. Winter weather is creeping up on us. Quickly. I'm not ready! Noooo!!!

It dropped to below freezing last night and has been WINDY for the past couple of days. Holy cow, the WIND! I feel like I am living in Kansas all over again, eyes watering, hair and absolute rat's nest. You know what happens when you mix colder weather with lots of crazy wind whipping through the trees?

You get crazy horses! All. of. them. NUTS. I was going to ride Miss Calypso last night, but I decided it was just too windy and she was just way to uppity to even think about having a constructive, remotely enjoyable ride. I hate getting on and just spending the entire time battling the wind crazies. It's better just to find something else to do than get on and have a miserable time, in my opinion. And I know Calypso. When she has the wind crazies her brain completely turns off and every single thing is a big horse-eating boogeyman out to devour her on one big bite. I spend the entire ride concentrating on just staying on and keeping her from having an absolute blow-up.

And the old man? He was running, tail high, neck arched, fartin' and snortin' all over the pasture. He certainly wasn't acting like a 22-year-old crabby Appy!

And Gabe. WHOO WHEE! He was crazy right along with Calypso and Chief. The boy can buck. He can buck and gallop and rear, all at the same time. And can he vocalize! He squeals like a girl and grunts like a little pig. Too funny.

I love watching the horses all acting like fools and playing hard. I don't want to ride them when they are acting like that, but I sure love watching them. I can just stand by the fence and watch them for hours.

Sometimes, when I'm just out there watching them, Robert hollers out to me asking what's wrong. "Nothing," I say. "I'm just watching them." I don't think he really 'gets it,' but that's okay. Horses are a sickness and I've got it bad.

Really rough days at work find me out just messing around the horses after I get home. It doesn't matter what it is. I can ride or groom, give them scritches and massages, clean paddocks or just sit out there and watch 'em. It's all good for my soul. They are a major key in helping all the bad day work crap just melt away.

P.S. Robert held up his end of the agreement. I now have a new mounting block. Post with pics coming as soon as I get my camera working again! Never let anyone say the man does anything half-assed. You'll see!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Watch out foxes!

I'm SO excited! I've been invited to go foxhunting with some friends next month. It's been awhile since I've been on a hunt so I'm excited and nervous all at once. I haven't been hunting since I had Star and she was a BLAST to hunt. As much as I'd like to haul Gabe out to the hunt, I think it would be too much too fast for him and might just blow his mind.

So, I'll be taking the little pork sausage, Calypso. I've been riding her pretty regularly and she's lost some weight and put on some condition, but she still resembles an overstuffed burrito rather than the sleek little mare she SHOULD be. You know it's bad when you nickname a horse Pork Sausage or Gordita. Poor thing. She's such an easy keeper...she gets fat on grass alone and probably needs about twice as much under saddle work as she currently gets.

Anyway, I guess I'd better dig out my hunt gear, polish the boots and make sure the hunt coat still fits! Woo hoo! My goal for next season is to have Gabe ready to go and try to make a meet at least twice a month, if not more. If you've never been foxhunting, and enjoy a fast, thrilling (sometimes a little scary!) ride, I HIGHLY recommend finding a hunt and giving it a try.

Oh, I've never actually seen a fox get caught on any of the hunts I've been on. I guess you could really call it a fox "chase" rather than a "hunt." Coyotes do get caught on occasion.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A list

Sometimes when I watch Gabe out in the field I just can't believe he's mine. I never imagined I'd have a horse quite as nice as he is and I could have never even dreamed I'd find one with his personality.

But I also look out there and think "Wow, I really need to get my butt in gear and get something done with him!" I've had him since the end of July then left for a two week vacation in California so I couldn't do anything but let him settle in. Before I left I decided I was just going to acquaint myself with him a bit, not really work with him, but "hang out" with him to start figuring him out. That's when I learned he had zero manners. That's when he reared up and took off, ripping the rope through my hands and taking off all the skin on three of my fingers and part of my palm. The rope ripped through the meat on two fingers and almost to the bone on one finger. It took almost a month to heal and was INCREDIBLY painful. I still have the scars and I don't think I'll ever have a fingerprint again on my middle finger.

I purchased a new pair of leather gloves when I got back from vacation to start working him in earnest.

When I came back I learned a lot more about him. Not only did he have no manners, he had no respect and no concept of personal space. He is far too big to not have perfect manners and quite honestly, there were a couple of moments when I thought maybe he was too much for me. But, I carried on, I figured him out, he figured me out and he has learned manners.

So, I decided to make a list of what I have accomplished in the past couple of months, just to prove to myself that I HAVE done something with him. He really isn't just sitting out there being a pasture ornament.

1. His ground manners have improved 100%. He doesn't crowd me, push me around or attempt to take off. He walks quietly at my shoulder, head down, rope swinging loosely.
2. He ground ties. I drop the rope. He stands. I can walk away and he stands there just watching.
3. He ties quietly to the post. Our first attempt at tying resulted in a broken 4x4 and a frightened horse.
4. He walks, trots, canters, reverses and backs up on the lunge. He had no concept of lunging when I brought him home. We are still working on the whoa.
5. He comes running when I whistle. Okay, that's not a training thing, but I think it's awesome. I whistled for him last night to come in from the field. His head came up, ears pricked forward and he GALLOPED, tail high, right to me and skidded to a halt a good 10 feet before he got to me so he could walk the rest of the way up. If that's not a show of respect for my space I don't know what is.
6. I can now fly spray him without him freaking out like I'm pouring acid on his body.
7. He drops his head into the halter when I say "head down." Our first few haltering attempts were quite hysterical to watch, I'm sure. When his head goes up, there is no way I can get a halter or a bridle on.
8. He is polite at feeding time and waits until I give him the okay before he starts eating.
9. I can drape a tarp over his body, open and close an umbrella around him, have him walk over a tarp, touch him all over with the whip and the rope, bounce a ball off him and follow him around with a bike and he doesn't care. I've tied plastic bags around his paddock...he doesn't care.
10. He long lines. Yesterday we long lined in the bridle with the snaffle and he was fabulous. Guess what? We got the whoa rather easily in the bridle! Woot! And we trotted. He has quite the huge trot stride so I got as workout as well to keep up with him.

Now it's time to ride. I'm eager to ride because at this point there's not a whole lot more I can do on the ground without boring him. Yes, we can do more long line work, but I want to be able to enhance the long line work with riding work. That's where you really start seeing results.

So, hubby. Please, please, please, will you build me my mounting block? You know, the 2.5' high design we found this weekend? Or, as Nuzzling Muzzles suggested, maybe I'll just buy a ladder! *grin* I want to ride my big guy!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Working on the whoa

My new long lines feel like butter in my hands. They are soft and sensitive and slide so smoothly through the surcingle rings. And Gabe, he's getting it. He's really, really getting it. We started out lunging on the long lines with the outside line through the surcingle ring and over his back to me and the inside line through the surcingle ring out to me. I clipped the lines to the outer rings of his brand-spanking new lunging cavesson and away we went. The cavesson is a bit heavier than the halter so he tossed his head a few times to figure it out then he got over it. Unfortunately, with a cavesson, the lunge line or long reins are A LOT easier for him to reach with those curious lips of his! He sucked the lunge line into his mouth a few times before we really got started. He is such an oral animal, he loves to suck ropes up into his maw and gnaw on 'em. I don't get it.

Anyway, we worked on long lining for about 45 minutes, the first 5 to 10 minutes with the outside line over his back. I flipped the outside line across his butt, then slowly down off his back to hang across his side and around his hocks to me. No adverse reaction. It took me two weeks of regular work with Star to just get her to quietly accept the long line over her butt...we never got to the across the hind legs part, she did NOT want anything touching her back there! As soon as I'd try, she'd squish her butt forward and crow hop, trying to get away from the offending line.

The lines in the correct position make changing directions a LOT easier! We walked back and forth across the paddock, working on collecting and extending the walk. We did circles, figure 8s, serpentines and turns on the haunches on the fence. I even tried a couple of "leg" yields and he GOT IT! He took it all in stride and only crow hopped once when I accidentally let one of the lines work it's way up under his tail a bit. Ooops! Bad long liner!

Our big sticking point right now is stopping. We still don't have that one down pat. I thought it would be a bit easier to get a good whoa out of him on the lines, but, it wasn't happening. So, I'm trying a different method, and it seemed to work. Instead of asking him to whoa out in the middle of the paddock or along the fence, I aim him towards a fence and when he gets about four steps away, I ask for a whoa with both my voice and my lines. The fence gives him a visual WHOA! aid. He was a bit confused at first and tried to turn on his haunches or yield sideways in response to the whoa and the upcoming barrier, but after about the 6th or 7th attempt, he stopped while still facing the fence.

He stops beautifully on the lead rope. I say whoa or I stop, and he stops without an issue, his head lined up with my shoulder where he belongs. He ground ties and stands statue still while I'm grooming him or whatever. But as soon as I get him AWAY from me on a longer length of rope, he forgets all about the whoa. Or, when I do get him to respond to the whoa out on the line, he tries to walk in to me and stand next to me...right where he would be if I was leading him. It's almost like he thinks whoa means "Stand still next to her shoulder." *sigh*

I'm going to keep using the fence as a barrier to get the whoa on the longer lines. We'll see how he progresses. Once we get the whoa down perfectly, I'll get on. Everything else is as good, if not better, than where I wanted him before I got on.

Now, if I could only get my hubby to get his butt in gear to build me a mounting block. Five-foot-two me, no matter how flexible, is going to have a bit of a challenge getting up onto 16.2hh Gabe without some vertical assistance! Especially on a horse who has been previously trained to walk while the rider is mounting! Ha! That would be a spectacle!

Monday, October 13, 2008

One mystery, solved

I have figured out what the rust-colored stuff on Gabe's face was. He's come in with it a few more times and I've noticed the stuff on my boots, too. Even his tongue was a bit orange-colored last night.

It's grass rust. Fun, eh? I found some of the spores on the fescue and the perennial ryegrass, but not on the timothy, orchard, clover or alfalfa. I've searched the web for info about this stuff and all I've found is info for people who have it on their lawns, not in their pastures. Is it toxic to the horses? I have no clue. I haven't noticed anything off about any of them, but I'm still a bit worried about whether it could be toxic to them.

Until I can figure that part out, I've pulled them off the most-affected pasture for now. I hate doing that because otherwise, my pastures are all still growing and gorgeous. I hate losing all that grazing time! Less grazing time means I have to feed more hay, ugh. I hate having to feed more hay before I actually have to feed more hay because the grass is gone.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Ain't it the truth!

Swiped from the Fugly blog:

A letter from your horse ...original version and the real story ...

When you are tense, let me teach you to relax.
When you are short tempered, let me teach you to be patient.
When you are short sighted, let me teach you to see.
When you are quick to react, let me teach you to be thoughtful.
When you are angry, let me teach you to be serene.
When you feel superior, let me teach you to be respectful.
When you are self absorbed, let me teach you to think of greater things.
When you are arrogant, let me teach you humility.
When you are lonely, let me be your companion.
When you are tired, let me carry the load.
When you need to learn, let me teach you. After all, I am your horse.

And now, the REAL story.....

When you are tense, let me teach you that there are lions in them thar woods, and we need to leave NOW!
When you are short tempered, let me teach you to slog around the pasture for an hour before you can catch me.
When you are short sighted, let me teach you to figure out where, exactly, in the 40 acres I am hiding.
When you are quick to react, let me teach you that herbivores kick much faster (harder) than omnivores.
When you are angry, let me teach you how well I can stand on my hind feet because I don't feel like cantering on my right lead today.
When you are worried, let me entertain you with my mystery lameness.
When you feel superior, let me teach you that, mostly, you are the maid service.
When you are self absorbed, let me teach you to PAY ATTENTION. Remember? I told you about those lions in them thar woods?
When you are arrogant, let me teach you what 1200 lbs. Of "YAHOO LETS GO!" can do when suitably inspired.
When you are lonely, let me be your companion. Let's do lunch. Also, breakfast and dinner.
When you are tired, don't forget the 600lbs. Of grain that needs to be unloaded.
When you are feeling financially secure, let me teach you the meaning of "Veterinary Services".
When you need to learn, hang around, bud. I'll learn ya.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A sunny afternoon

Of course, it's a beautiful day: Sunny and slightly cool with that wonderful smell of fall on the air. But, my riding area is muddy, the pastures are muddy, so no riding and no real working of Gabe for me today.

But, I still wanted to spend some quality time with my critters so I roped my husband and my youngest daughter into taking the horses for a nice, leisurely walk. Of course, I had an ulterior motive - to get Gabe out and about and exposed to new things in the company of his buddies. He was kind of a turd - rushing ahead on the lead, snorting and getting kind of pissy if either of the other two got too far ahead. We had a few little chit chats about who was in charge of this outing.

Chief and Gabe making nice. Kayleigh is encouraging them to be best buds. Not gonna happen.

Robert with his girl, Calypso. He's explaining to Kayleigh the benefits and joys of a nice, leisurely walk. Pardon the mud on our critters. We wanted to take advantage of the most daylight possible. They got the mud knocked off 'em later.Kayleigh loves her old man. At a spunky 22-years-old, I sure hope the old guy is with us for many more years. He worth more than his weight in gold. Sure, he can be crabby, he is set in his ways and sometimes, Kayleigh is the only one who can catch him, but he is SUCH a good boy for her.

Is there anything more beautiful than a little girl and her best friend? Every horse deserves to be loved by a little girl at least once in their life. Chief is a pretty lucky guy.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Little mysteries

There is something freaky going on around the farm.

Last week I left fly masks on the horses overnight...the mosquitoes were HORRIBLE. I sprayed the heck out of their bodies to keep the nasty little things away, but you know you just can't do a good job on their faces. So, on go the fly masks. 

Come morning, Gabe is minus his mask. Okay. I can deal with that, he's tough on his clothes. So, I search his paddock. No mask. I search Calypso and Chief's paddock, thinking maybe they were playing over the fence and one of them stole his mask. Nope. No mask. I thought, well, maybe his mask is hidden in some of the tall grass in his paddock. So, I mowed. No mask. Huh. What the heck? I mow Calypso and Chief's paddock. Still NO MASK. 

Of course I'm wondering if the big pig ate his mask. I even checked in the water tank, under his hay manger and around the outside of his paddock, just in case. Nada. 

We have two paddocks and three good-sized pastures. The horses are all locked into their paddocks at night. No one stays out in the pasture overnight. So, I'm out mowing a section of land that hasn't been fenced yet (that's on next year's list of things to get done!) and I glance over into one of our pastures and what do I see there? THE MASK! Ummm...what the heck? How did Gabe's fly mask get off his face, across his paddock, across Calypso and Chief's paddock and on the OTHER SIDE of a 2 acre pasture? It's a mystery to me! I'm going with the theory that the wind blew it there. Which would be a great theory if we had HAD any wind that night. Which we didn't. I wonder if an animal would carry something like that off. I can't imagine it, but you never know.

Second mystery: Last night I went out to the very far pasture to bring Gabe and Calypso in for the night. They come running up to the gate because they love me (read: Feed us NOW!) and I noticed Gabe's face looks odd. Really odd. Like during the day his head went from steel and dark gray to chestnut. How bizarre is that? Great, my gray horse has a weird color gene expressing itself. 

Nope. It was RUST all over his face. Rust or something like it. But I can't for the life of me figure out how the heck he got a dusting of this rust-colored stuff all over his face. Aside from the fence posts, there is no metal in the pasture. The water tubs are plastic, the gate is currently electric fencing. There is nothing he could have rubbed his head on to get it covered in this stuff. There aren't even any weeds in that pasture that would have rust-colored pollen. It rubbed off easily enough and seems harmless, but it just has me shaking my head, wondering what this horse managed to get into to leave his face chestnut colored! Weird.

I haven't worked with Gabe for the last couple of days. With the daylight waning so very early I'm only able to work one horse a night. Or give Kayleigh a lunge lesson on Chief. She has been asking more and more often to go riding with me so I do. Soon enough mom won't be cool any more and I'll be riding alone again, so I'll take every bit of riding time with her I can get. We're enjoying it. She's been riding the old man bareback which just thrills the heck out of her.

Gabe's new clothes arrived yesterday. I haven't tried them on him yet, but I must say, these blankets are the BIGGEST horse clothes I've ever owned! Star wore a 76" blanket. Gabe wears an 80". I even measured him twice, just to be sure I wasn't hallucinating! 

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ready to rumble!


Doesn't he look ready to work! He was very eager and willing today. Notice he's standing very happily tied. I've been tying him up regularly, grooming him, and just letting him stand for awhile before I do anything else. He seems to have figured it out. And no, he's not tied to the chain link fence! He'd rip that thing down in half a second if I did. My snubbing post is right next to the chain link.

I dug out a loose ring snaffle Myler bit that I absolutely love, cobbled together a bridle big enough to fit his giant head and put it on him. What a mouthy, mouthy beast he is! He played and played and played with that bit. He sucked it up in his mouth, tried to suck it back to his molars to gnaw on it and wiggled it around quite a bit with his tongue. I left his rope halter on and just worked him off the halter without touching the bit. I want him to get used to having a bit just hanging around in there not doing a thing before I start working him off the bit itself. He had a nice, thick white "lipstick" of foam on his mouth and around the bit by the time we were done. Foam is good!

I love, love, love the Myler bits. They are a tad pricey, but I really like the design of their basic bits. The more "advanced" styles of bits boggle me and I see no use for any of them.

The one I put on him is a Myler Loose Ring Comfort Snaffle, like this one.
The typical loose ring snaffle can have a potentially painful "nutcracker" effect, especially on horses with fairly narrow jaws and low palates. He has both. The Myler bits are curved to follow the contour of the mouth and tongue and add a curved "barrel" where the joint is to eliminate the nutcracker effect. It's a very, very mild bit and most horses I've used it on seem to respond very well to it. It's not entirely a copper mouth, it does have copper inlay, which has a similar effect of a full copper mouth.

The way he responded to the loose ring today I'm rethinking the full cheek snaffle. I may just leave him in this one for awhile and see how it goes. If we need to go to the full cheek, we will. I do, however, need a bridle that fits him, one that's not cobbled together from about four other bridles! He looked like an unkempt street urchin with his oh-so-attractive bridle of various shades of leather, including black AND that really, really light blondish shade. Sad.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Gearing up for winter

Robert now calls Gabe my "boyfriend." If he's my boyfriend, I must be his Sugar Mama. That boy is going to be the best dressed horse on the block! A new turnout sheet and a medium weight turnout blanket are on their way to my tackroom for His Highness right now. You know what the coolest thing about gray horses is? They can wear ANY color and look fabulous. All my horses wear purple, but I'm venturing out of purple with him and trying black, charcoal gray and navy. He just looks great in anything. I don't think I'll ever put him in pink, but, you get the drift.

I also ordered a new set of long reins. My old ones just aren't working. I used them so much with Star they developed some wear areas where they go through the rings on the surcingle, and they tend to snag. Not such a good thing when lightness and sensitivity are what I'm aiming for. It just doesn't enhance his experience if he's getting jerky tugs through the reins because they won't slide properly. I also found a decent, inexpensive lunging cavesson to complete the ensemble. I've been using his halter, but we've been having some issues with it sliding into his eye on turns. Not good, not when you want the whole long reining thing to be a pleasant experience, not one that leaves him half-blinded on sharp turns!

It has been so hard for me to not go out there and toss a saddle on him and just go for a ride. I'm LONGING to ride him. But there are a couple of things keeping me in check. I still haven't bitted him up and that's a big one. I have to measure his mouth before I pick up a new bit for him. I have probably 20 different bits in my tack trunk, but none I would use on him at this stage. I'm going to start him in a full-cheek copper-mouth plain snaffle. It's about as mild as you can get and I firmly believe all horses should go easily in a plain snaffle. Why the full-cheek? It's all about moving away from pressure. The full-cheek is designed to put pressure on the outside of his face, not just the outside of his lips and on his gums, all while preventing the bit from moving around in his mouth or sliding through his mouth if he doesn't "get it" right away. Once he figures it out, we'll move up to a D-ring copper mouth snaffle or an eggbutt copper-mouth snaffle. Can you tell I like the copper mouths? Calypso goes in a copper roller D-ring snaffle because she likes something in there to "play with", but Chief does not. He doesn't like the taste of copper at all and because he's a bit hard-mouthed and ridden by a 7-year-old, he goes in a low port Kimberwick.

I will also admit I'm a little bit wary about the first ride. I just don't know how he'll react and 16.2hh is awful high to fall from. I'm more cautious at 35 than I was at 16. I break and bruise easier and don't bounce quite as well as I once did. It's not that I'm afraid of Gabe, I'm worried that my seat won't be quite steady enough for any initial adverse reactions and I won't be able to stick it. I've been putting quite a bit more time in the saddle on Calypso and Chief in an attempt to prepare myself for the first ride on Gabe. I really need to get my butt to the gym, or commit to working out at home again and lose a few extra pounds, then I'll feel even more confident about that first ride.

I do know that once I get over the "first ride" hump, it will all be good. Well, as long as I don't get unceremoniously dumped into the dirt on the first ride of course!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Oooh! Scary!

What happens when you ask your husband to follow you and your big horse around the field popping open and closed a huge rainbow-colored umbrella and dragging a noisy tarp while you are lunging the horse?

Same thing that happens when you ask him to stand on one side of the circle you are lunging your big horse on and asking him to wave, swing, open and close the same huge rainbow-colored umbrella.

Not a thing. Not a spook, snort or white eye to be found.

Gabe looked, raised his head, eye-balled Robert and the Scary Stuff for a minute, made a couple of small, cautious steps sideways then went on his merry way listening to my commands. He even lunged over the noisy tarp and let both of us stand next to him holding the open umbrella over our heads then over his.

He was more worried about whether or not the umbrella and the tarp were edible, rather than whether they would eat HIM. I tossed the tarp up over his back, dragged it up his neck, led him around with the tarp over his body and rubbed it all over his legs and belly. He didn't care.

When he got tired of the tarp being on him, he reached around and casually pulled it off. I have a feeling this horse is going to be really, really tough on blankets this winter.

We continue our forward progression. I'm waiting for a new set of long lines to arrive before we go forward with the long reining. The ones I do have are old and keep getting snagged up in the surcingle rings, and that just won't do.

However, I have run into a bit of snag that I'm not quite sure how to fix.

Gabe walks, trots, canters and reverses on the lunge all by voice commands and body language. He halts, too, but when he halts he turns to look at me and walks in towards me. I can't figure out how to teach him to stand on the outside of the circle on a halt instead of coming in to see me and trying to stand next to my right shoulder as if he's on the lead rope. If I halt him while in close proximity and try to make him stand still while I move back to the center, he follows me. I've tried pushing him back out with the whip, I've tried re-positioning myself when asking for a halt as I'm moving towards his head and shoulder while asking for a halt instead of standing opposite his girth area. Nothing is working. I don't want to punish him for coming in to me to halt because in his mind, he's doing what I'm asking...he's halting. He's just not halting where I want him to halt while on the lunge. He's halting beautifully...if he were on the lead rope!

Any suggestions are much appreciated!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Yes, I'm a dork

Sometimes, I just can't help it. Go ahead, groan, they're bad. But you have to admit, they're funny.



Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tying, revisited

I didn't get to the ridin' part last night, I got caught up in working Gabe and ran out of daylight. Another big negative about not having a real arena. Tonight will be a riding night. Calypso and I both need the work!

Gabe came out of his paddock full of spit and fire. Not bad, just up and jiggly. He was trying really, really hard to be good but I could tell he just wanted to GO!

I moved him around for awhile, sideways, forwards, backwards, small circles, turns on forehand and haunches, trying to switch gears in his brain so he could focus. He is figuring out that his job, while on the lead, is to keep a bit of slack in the lead rope while paying attention. Pulling back, going sideways or rushing is a great big no-no. Going sideways into me is an even bigger no-no and he gets a quick, sharp elbow in his shoulder and I move him quickly out of my space by forcing him over then backwards a few steps. He was wiggly and took a big jump sideways like he wanted to just dip his head and buck and leap and PLAY. I checked him with a quick,hard pull of the lead then made him back, back, back to refocus.

He grunts when he gets checked or when I growl a "no" or "Whoa" at him. It's kind of funny. He's probably the most vocal horse I've ever been around. He grunts and groans when he rolls and when he stretches, when he pees, when he bucks or rears or tosses his head around. He grunts when I reprimand him. He also makes those weird noises that only geldings make when he trots. He grinds his teeth when he gets frustrated or impatient.

I tied him to the post and he made googly eyes and snot-snorted at the upside-down bucket that wasn't there last time. Oh! The HORRORS! How dare that bucket be there! He sniffed it, I sat on it and moved it around and he got over it. He stood mostly still while I groomed him. Not as still as I like, but I'll take the few steps sideways movement over the flying backwards movement any day of the week. While I groomed his right side he tried to reach around and bite me. This has happened a couple of times previously and I just pushed him away, hoping to get his attention without having to pop him. Last night he got an elbow and the hard side of my body brush in the lips a few times for the teeth. After the third pop on his lips, he quit the biting attempts.

I thought, well, maybe he has a knot or a sore spot somewhere so I massaged and pressed and probed his neck and shoulder and side and couldn't find anywhere that elicted any kind of pain or discomfort response. I can curry him really hard and deep and he loves it, he leans his body into the curry and will actually start swaying against it, like a horse itching on a post or a tree. Yes, he grunts and groans during this part. It's when I get out a softer brush that the biting attempts start. Only on the right side. I don't know. Learned response maybe? Overstimulation? His way of telling me he's not quite done with the curry? I have no idea.

Once the grooming was done I let him stand. I moved a safe distance away and sat. And he stood. He tried to walk away and realized he was tied. He backed, slowly, a step, two steps and realized he was still tied and stepped forward to lessen the pressure. So he stood. And stood. Got bored enough to rest a hind foot and drop his head. He stood quietly. Then started getting impatient and pawed a few times. I growled "no" at him and he stopped pawing. I let him stand there figuring things out. He stood tied, not counting the grooming time, for nearly 45 minutes. Not one attempt to go violently backwards. Yay! Almost post broke!

I rewarded him with an apple, untied him, and took him out for a walk down the driveway and a graze. He was mostly good on the walk, still a bit wiggly with pent-up energy, but good. He is learning, sometimes he still behaves like a rotten teenager, but the rotten teenager moments are fewer and shorter. He is staying at my shoulder instead of barging ahead, and instead of barging ahead when he feels frisky, he tucks his head, arches his neck and takes shorter, quicker steps, all while working really hard to keep the lead rope slack, which is what I absolutely require.

I know some people would say "What a waste of time. Get on that horse!" I enjoy this ground training part, a lot, and I truly believe strong training on the ground leads to better responses and quicker understanding in the saddle. Sure, I want to ride him, but he's not ready for that step quite yet.

I've worked with far, far too many awful mannered show horses who were never taught to behave on the ground. Most of these horses did their job as a show horse very well, but were complete shits to ride and even worse to handle. I've been hurt by some of them and frightened by more than a couple. I've known ones you couldn't lead without a lip chain, groom or tack without a twitch or go into the stall without a whip. I will not own that horse. Ever. Every moment I spend on the ground instilling respect and obedience in Gabe is a better moment in the saddle, for both of us.

Monday, September 15, 2008

When it rains

I love my property. I love all the pastures I have and the space to ride. I can go for hours and hours through fields and along back country roads.

What I don't love is not having an indoor arena. The remnants of Hurricane Ike unloaded on us Sunday and we are wet, muddy and flooded. The creek came up into Gabe's pasture and part of my riding "arena" is under water. I don't have an arena with all-weather footing. I have a turf (that's the hoity-toity word for "grass") arena, which basically turns to mud when it really rains.

I'm not going to get to do much with Gabe today and the only riding I'll be able to do on Calypso is up and down the driveway and down the road. I'll probably use the road riding "opportunity" to work on her transitions within and between gaits. She gets on her forehand and rushes at the trot if she's not ridden perfectly balanced and forward. Since she's Robert's horse, I've been working on trying to get her to stay off her forehand even if the riding isn't perfect. Once she gets on the forehand, her trot is AWFUL. It's short and stiff, head up, back tense. Very much like riding a pogo stick. But when she's balanced, she has a decent trot.

I won't be able to work Gabe in the field at all. This is horse training after all, not muddin'! I will take this forced opportunity to do more work with him standing nicely tied while I groom him and do whatever else to him that he needs to learn to endure. Then maybe I'll take him for a short walk and a graze along the driveway.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Changing sights, new commands

We've moved Gabe's training from the small paddock to what has been dubbed my "jump field." It's out of sight of the other horses, quite a bit bigger and I have jumps set up in there. Robert is in the process of designing/building me more jumps to add to my field! I sent him an email chock full of pictures of what I want: flower boxes, a wall, a coop, a brush box and a roll top, along with several sets of schooling standards. I'm very, very excited to see my field filled with brightly colored schooling jumps.

Anyway, I worked him for the first time in the jump field Wednesday. It's a much bigger space with much more rolling terrain than the paddock. We hadn't worked on cantering on the lunge yet in the paddock so that was one of our goals in the jump field. Yes, it's fenced in. After his shenanigans and fit throwing out in the wide open spaces, I decided I'll work him in enclosed areas for awhile longer.

And I wore my helmet, too. What a difference a helmet makes in my level of confidence! I have some ugly rope burn scars on my hands from earlier this summer, so I always, always wear heavy gloves when I'm working him. I've started wearing them while I'm working the other horses too, not because I'm worried about their shenanigans, but because my hands seem so much softer and less calloused since I've been wearing them.

I lunged him over cross rails a few times and he really, really seemed to enjoy it. Not one time did he say "Nope, I don't think so," and not pop over it. He just looked at it and over he went. He has decent form, considering it was only an 18" jump.

Then, we started the canter work. First to the left, his easiest, most flexible side. We had a few explosive canter take-offs like he was taking off from the gate and he had a really hard time figuring out how to go slowly in a circle. He's never, ever had to canter on a circle before so this was a real challenge for him, both for his balance and for his mind. He figured it out pretty quickly and while not perfectly balanced or or able to keep a regular pace on the circle, he did well.

To the right was an entirely different story. On the track, and in his track training, he was required to canter and gallop always turning to the left around the track. We had many, many explosive canter transitions tracking to the right and he could not figure out how to stay on a circle. Rope halters are my friend. He'd break into a canter and attempt to canter STRAIGHT across the field, instead of on a nice curve. I spent a lot of time following him, pulling him back on track, walk, trot, walk, halt, back, walk, halt, trot, canter. BAM! Gone. I am happy to say he didn't get away from me once. He did haul me across the field a couple of times, but never got away. Love those rope halters!

It probably took 20-25 minutes of working, reworking and refocusing tracking to the right to get him to understand what I was asking. And when he finally got it, he was an unbalanced, wrong lead, high-headed mess making a lumpy oval instead of a nice circle. But, he got it. One thing at a time, right?

I haven't put a bit on him yet, for many reasons. One reason is because I expected to have the cantering confusion and explosions that we had. I don't want to punish his mouth because he doesn't understand what I'm asking. On the track, Thoroughbreds are trained to run FASTER when the pressure of the bit gets stronger, completely opposite of how he will be expected to respond as a pleasure horse. Can you imagine how much worse our cantering training would have been had a bit been in his mouth? Ugh. I don't think I could have kept up with him! Retraining to the bit is going to be a few sessions of focusing on JUST the bit pressure. Another reason is I'm waiting for the dentist to come out and do some work on his mouth. His wolf teeth need pulled/clipped and I know he has some spurs on a few of his molars. The bit should be a comfortable experience, not a painful one. We have ONE equine dentist (that I trust and have used before!) in a four county region. His schedule is quite full at the moment.

Why haven't I gotten on him yet? That's another post entirely, as this one has gotten a lot longer than I intended!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

And, he's off!

The horses have been "cooped up" in their dry lots (well, at this point, mud lots) for about a week. They each have about 1/2 to 3/4 an acre of space in their paddocks, so it's not like they are confined to an itty-bitty area. They stretch their legs and have plenty of room to move.

I haven't turned them out on the grass pastures because it's been raining and rain equals mud and horse hooves on mud equals torn up pastures and dead grass. I probably pamper my pastures more than is really necessary, but I will not turn horses out on muddy pastures. I'd like to keep them grassy and green, not big, weedy mud pits.

Anyway, the pastures were dry enough last night that I could turn them out this morning. The way Gabe acted you'd think he's been cooped up in a 10x10 stall for the past week! Sheesh! Snorting and prancing and arching his neck on the walk from his paddock to the pasture. He was bouncing along like he was spring-loaded!

They get turned out around 6 a.m. and at that time, the dew is still heavy on the grass. I'd rather wait to turn them out until after the dew dries, but if I want them to go out, that's when they have to go out, work schedules and whatnot.

After snorting and prancing and wiggling all the way to the pasture, Gabe couldn't wait to be FREE to kick up his heels. He leapt and bucked and snorted and farted around the pasture as soon as I removed his halter. He tore around the corners and did circles around Calypso who was happy to just stand and munch on the nearly knee-high grass while giving the youngster the evil eye.

Do you know what happens when you combine dew-soaked, nearly knee-deep grass with a Thoroughbred doing his impression of the Indy 500 around the pasture?

You get a horse who lands on his side when he thinks he can take that sharp turn at a pace a notch or two higher than he should. Yup. Gabe took a tumble this morning. He wasn't even flustered by it. Up he leapt right back up and continued his crazy, bucking circuit around the pasture.

My heart leapt into my throat and my stomach clenched painfully when I saw him go down. The only thing running through my head was "Oh shit, he's broken a leg. Shit." It's pretty scary to see a horse go down, especially when it's the big goofy Thoroughbred you've completely fallen head over heels in love with.

The big nut. I hoped he learned something about centrifugal force, wet grass and high speeds this morning!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Gabe throws a royal fit

He finally did it. He threw a teenage temper tantrum. If he was an actual human teenager he would have rolled his eyes, huffed loudly, stomped through the house to slam the bedroom door while telling me how I'm out to ruin his life FOREVER and that I NEVER let him have any fun at all. He probably would have flung something at the closed door just to make sure I knew he was pissed.

Gabe throwing a temper tantrum is a bit scary. He's HUGE and those hooves and legs have quite the reach on them, especially when you're the 5'2" human holding the end of the rope. He throws noisy tantrums, seriously, it was almost funny the way he was grunting and snorting during the fit throwing shenanigans.

We started with a 15-minute session of grooming with him tied to the post. He was mostly a gentleman. Not too wiggly and no pulling back at all. Still not cured of the pulling, but getting there. How do I know he's not cured? He stands there, but he's not relaxed. He's tense and worried about being tied up, but at least he stood this time.

Aside from the walk I took him on with Calypso not too long ago, all of our work has been in a pasture where he can see the other horses. He's close to them, the pasture is familiar, life is good and he works happily.

I decided it was time to change things up a bit so I took him out for a walk, alone, down our driveway. We have a pretty long driveway, nearly half a mile, and the other horses are out of sight pretty quickly. He was very non-happy about that, but, as long as we were walking and I was keeping his attention with regular halts and turns on the forehand/haunches, he was pretty good. A little nervous, but paying attention.

The driveway curves around the pond and there's a good-sized flat, grassy area between the pond and the driveway. My goal was to get him there, let him graze for a couple of minutes and do some lunge work in a new place. No new commands, just a new place.

So, he can't see the other horses, but he can hear Calypso screaming for him. The weather was changing quickly as a big, noisy thunderstorm was rolling in AND we were in a new place. Apparently, all that was too much for him and he decided he was going to have fits on the end of my line. Bucking and rearing and grunting and trying to run off back to the other horses. I'd get him moving at a walk at the end of the line and he'd lunge and buck and grunt and rear and try to take off, again and again. He can be pretty scary when he's acting like a spoiled brat and I wished, more than once, that I had plunked my hard hat on before I took him out. I guarantee I WILL be wearing the hat next time.

Finally, after dealing with his juvenile tantrums and reprimanding him with lots of backing up and tight, tight turns on the forehand/haunches to refocus him, I got him to walk once, mostly calmly, on a circle around me. Once he accomplished that simple task, we headed back. I decided it was probably not a good day to attempt to continue with our session in the wide open spaces. We headed to a different pasture, one I haven't worked him in, and made his goofy butt work HARD in there. By the end of the session he was quiet and listening and appropriately contrite for acting like a fool.

My new goal is to take him out and work him in strange places much more often. He has to learn that in every situation, in every place, no matter how new or scary, he MUST listen to me and not throw fits. His behavior was absolutely UNACCEPTABLE. Especially with as big as he is. He can get very dangerous very quickly if he decides he's done listening. He has to learn that behaving badly can be MUCH worse for him than whatever scary or nerve-wracking situation he might be in. He has to learn to turn to me in those scary situations. I can't make him not be scared or nervous about things, but I can teach him how to respond appropriately in those situations.

Next time, I'm wearing my hard hat. I don't need a big Gabe hoof making contact with my naked noggin.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The new digs

Gabe and Calypso are digging their new space. Lots of beautiful green,lush grass and new views.

Woo hoo!

Hi there! I love my pasture, but can ya get someone to turn down the heat? Melting over here. And this humidity, it's doing NOTHING for my hair. Seriously.

Don't worry bud, the cold weather is just around the corner. Trust me, you'll be complaining about the chill soon enough. Which reminds me...you need a blankie! And I need two new tank heaters.

I'll stop complaining about the heat and humidity now. An arctic blast from last winter. *shudder*

My toes and nose are cold just thinking about it. *double shudder*

A dream fulfilled

A momentary break from the Gabe files:

The girls and I visited my mom and stepdad in their beautiful California cabin this summer...10 days of pure bliss! We spent four of those days in the mountains, camping with the horses and trail riding. It has always been a dream of mine to ride in the mountains and I can now say it was everything I had hoped it would be and more. Kayleigh had a blast and led a few of our trail rides. I was a little concerned about her on some of the steeper trails as we don't really have many places in the Midwest that make the horses sit on their butts on the way down! I shouldn't have worried...she rode 'em like a pro.
My mom and Kayleigh, leading the way. We were camping near Truckee, Calif., which is pretty near where the infamous Donner party engaged in cannibalism.
Kayleigh absolutely loved being our trail boss. See her new chinks? She LOVES them! While we were out and about in the mountains they got a few scratches from the trees. She came up with a great story to tell back at camp about how a mountain lion jumped out and attacked her, the chinks protected her and Cheyenne (her horse) galloped up the mountain to save her life. She's quite the storyteller.
The views were incredible. My mom kept apologizing for the skies being so smoky from all the wildfires, but they looked pretty darn clear and blue to me. Guess I'm so used to the humidity haze around here those California mountains skies were stunning.
At the top. Amazing, isn't it? Not a soul or a bit of civilization in sight. LOVE IT!
The view I woke to every morning on that camping trip. I could live with a view like that for the rest of my life.

When the best laid plans...

I came into this long holiday weekend with all kinds of grand plans for my riding/training pleasure. I wanted to ride both Calypso and Chief and put some serious long-reining time in with Gabe. I even planned to go out for a nice, long trail ride with Robert, something we haven't done for a couple of months.

It's amazing how all the fun stuff gets shifted to the side when "real" work needs doing. I managed one session with Gabe and we just worked on confirming his understanding of my voice commands: Walk, trot, canter, whoa, easy, back and reverse. The canter and back commands are still iffy, but everything else seems planted fairly firmly in his head. I didn't get the long reins on him like I'd planned.

It was far too hot, and after spending the day toiling around the farm, I knew I just didn't have the energy to really keep up with him during the trot on the long lines. I think real temperatures of 98-degrees with the humidity levels around 88 percent constitute "too freaking hot!" Oppressively, depressingly, maddeningly HOT!

I did get the new pasture fenced and my HUGE veggie garden plot tilled, composted and tilled again. I confess, Robert did a lion's share of the tilling work. I'm sure he loved hearing the words "Honey, could you do this for me? I just can't do it by myself," because God knows he very, very rarely hears me say "Help! I can't do it!" The tiller was just far too big and far too powerful and our ground too much like concrete for me to safely handle that dangerous piece of machinery. I kept losing control of the thing and it would drag me across the yard and I had terrifying visions of slipping beneath those blades and turning my legs into shredded hamburger. *shudder* While he tilled, I hauled about 20 huge wheelbarrows full of compost up to the plot and spread it out. The plot is now ready for next year's bounty. I have room for every veggie and melon I've ever wanted to plant and then some.

Gabe and Calypso are thrilled with the new pasture. When we turned them out in it Saturday morning they both took off like their tails were on fire and bucked and farted and galloped around the whole thing several times. What a sight! Gabe sure can BUCK! I hope he never does that under saddle or I'd be launched to the moon. Have I mentioned Gabe is gorgeous? And that I'm completely in love with him? Thought so. *grin*

My youngest, Kayleigh, had a riding lesson Friday night and a ranking test Saturday morning. She earned her first rank star at the barn where she rides and she's pretty darned pleased with herself. She rides at home with me about three days a week (when it's not blazing hot or arctic cold), but we got to the point several months ago where me trying to give her lessons was pointless. We just ended up arguing about something stupid, so, she now takes lessons once a week with a group of girls her age and the rest of the week, we trail ride.

Once a week I give her a lunge lesson and I try to give her gentle reminders about her heels and posture and seat while she works on balance and posting and two-point. It seems that if someone ELSE tells her to keep her heels down and head up, she does it without question. At first it was frustrating for me to see someone else give her a lesson and tell her EXACTLY the same things I've been telling her, often in exactly the same words, and she listened without question. With me, it was nearly always an argument and it got to the point where riding together was becoming a chore, not a pleasure. Now, she listens to me when I remind her of things from her lesson and she listens instead of arguing.

Riding together is again a great pleasure and we have a lot of heart-to-heart talks just plodding along in the fields. It's the best type of riding there is.