Friday, August 29, 2008

We should have called him "Clown"

I really need to start remembering to carry my camera with me every time I go out to play with Gabe. He does the funniest things and is such a big goof.

Last night I thought we'd change things up a bit. I haven't been able to find a thing that this horse reacts to negatively yet. Well, except for the tying episode. As soon as I get my brand-new 6x6 post in the ground and the concrete dries, we'll have another go at it.

Ropes following him on the ground, wrapped around his body or looped across his haunches don't phase him. Plastic issue. Even me standing next to him with a pair of pool noodles and rubbing them all over his body and bouncing them off adverse reaction. Dressage whips and lunge whips, whatever. He goes over poles and logs without issue. Today I think I'll get the tarp out and get him to walk across it and stand on it and maybe even see if he'll tolerate it over his body. The more I desensitize him, the more he looks to me as his fearless leader.

Last night his playful side just couldn't be contained. I decided it was time for him to start really feeling like he was "working." So, out comes the saddle pad and my heavy-duty surcingle. Yes, he is saddle broke, but on the racetrack, when the saddle goes on, it's time to RUN! I need to change that mentality a step at a time so when I finally do get on he doesn't feel like he's going to the starting gate.

I tossed the saddle pad up and turned to grab the surcingle. In the two seconds it took me to pick it up, the big booger reached around, grabbed the saddle pad in his teeth, flung it around for a bit and dropped it on the ground. He looked at me with his ears perked as if asking "Again?" Pick up the pad, toss it back on. He reaches around and pulls it off again, playing with it for a few seconds before dropping it to the ground at my feet. Ha! The third time I tossed it up there I had the surcingle in my hand and put it on top of the pad immediately. But the surcingle still needs buckled on. I reach under him to grab the girth and the whole thing disappeared! He had reached around to the other side to grab the surcingle and pull it off, too! Flexibility? Yeah, he's got it. Two more attempts and I had the pad and the surcingle snugly in place. No issues. I think he just wanted to play. He didn't seem to resent or dislike having the pad and surcingle on, he just wanted to play.

So, the second "new" thing I had planned was a faux ditch between two cavaletti poles. I had set it up using an old, deflated air mattress. I like the nice, heavy plastic of the air mattress because it doesn't blow or "crinkle" in the wind. Plus, I'm all for re-purposing old stuff whenever I can.

Anyway, I took him over to my new ditch to let him sniff it and get a good look at it before I asked him to go over it. Wouldn't you know it...he quickly found the edge of it, grabbed it, and pulled it out from beneath the cavaletti poles! He waved it around a bit and tossed it. I positioned it back under the poles. This was not going to be an issue for him, not at all. He didn't bat an eye when I asked him to go over it. I expected him to jump over it, but apparently he had other plans. He trotted right on top of it as if it wasn't even there. I managed to get him to jump it twice without sticking a foot in the middle of my ditch. Next time I'll add a bit of water to it and see what he does.

Bravery is NOT an issue with this horse!

We ended our 45 minute session with a bit more saddle pad work. I flicked it all over his body, around his legs, over his neck and finally draped it over his head. He seemed quite embarrassed to have this huge white pad perched over his head like a silly hat. He looked at me as if to say "Okay, are we done playing dress-up now? I feel like an idiot and the other horses are all laughing at me. Give me some dignity woman!"

Today we haul out the tarp, an umbrella and a bike. I'm also going to set a couple of the cavaletti up to about a foot, just to see how he reacts. Tomorrow I'm going to pull out some of the huge bleach bottles I've been saving (again with the re-purposing!) and place them at random intervals around the arena because tomorrow, we start the long reining work. I'll use the bleach bottles as guides to long rein him around and through. This should be fun! I did a lot of long reining work with Star and with a few other horses I've worked with in the past. With Star I took a few long reining lessons with a classical dressage instructor who had once trained with the Cadre Noir in France and we got to the point where we could do half-passes, walk and trot pirouettes and a tiny bit of piaffe, all on the long reins. I believe it's a great way to introduce new ideas to a horse before you ask for it in the saddle.

I'll try to remember my camera next time, or at least employ one of my family members to shoot the session.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Relaxing with a friend

I'm learning a lot from Gabe, just by being around him. He is reminding me that perfection isn't always necessary as long as a step or two are made in the right direction. He is also reminding me that sometimes I try too hard and need to take some time to just hang out and relax. Learning should always be fun and play should always be a part of the learning process.

Last night we skipped the "intensive" training session and went for a long walk instead. Our neighbor has an absolutely gorgeous piece of property. Twenty+ acres of grassy fields and shady woods are accessible just across our creek. He keeps trails mowed through the fields and woods and has given us permission to use it, whenever. Gabe hasn't been off our property yet and he hasn't had much experience with deep woods so I thought it would be a good experience for him. I thought about ponying him off Calypso, but I've never ponied off her so I don't really know how she would behave. Instead, I asked Robert to ride her while I took Gabe for a walk through the woods. I figured Calypso would give him some confidence in such a new, exciting situation.

She did and he was WONDERFUL. He walked right over the bridge over our creek without hesitation or even a snort. He looked at it, sniffed the surface, and walked on. It was during our walk through the wide open fields where he reminded me that sometimes it's okay to stop and smell the roses and just stand still to gaze out across the world. Sometimes, there are delightful bits of clover to munch on while just checking things out.

He wasn't so sure about the woods at first because he's never had to walk through woods. I imagine, as a horse who is used to big open spaces, the tight, towering, closed in woods can be a pretty spooky place. He was looky and wanted to stop just to make sure there weren't horse-eating monsters hiding behind trees, but he was good. He wasn't a nut and he didn't spook at a thing...he just asked to stop and look around a bit before moving on. There are woods in the pasture he's turned out in, but he's been extremely hesitant to follow Calypso into them. When she disappears into the trees, he runs along the edge and calls for her. After I walked him through the woods last night, he followed her right into the woods when I turned them back out into the pasture.

He has a funny habit that he does to show his displeasure with me. When I'd ask him to stop and stand while Calypso kept walking, he'd jig a little bit then wrinkle up his lips like he was thinking REALLY hard about what I was requiring him to do. He also likes to grab the lead rope in his teeth if he's getting bored with whatever we are doing as if to tell me "Okay, next thing, please. I've got this one figured out." When he's frustrated, he stretches his neck and grinds his teeth to show his frustration. If these are the ways he deals with his displeasure and frustration, I can definitely deal with them. Those are FAR better than a horse who runs me over, bites or tries to take off when they aren't particularly overjoyed with the current situation.

I am, however, starting to worry we may have a herd-bound issue with him, which could be a problem later down the line. When I take Calypso or Chief out to ride, he has little galloping/bucking fits in his pasture and SCREAMS. He's just going to have to figure out that eventually they do come back and nothing is going to eat his great big self while they are gone.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The not-so-happy herd

My happy little horse herd is not to be. I've turned Gabe out with Calypso for about two weeks now and the two get along fairly well. They aren't best buds yet, but they don't hate each other, either. Gabe is definitely a lover, not a fighter, and he's the bottom man on the totem pole. Calypso doesn't pick on him, just moves him around on occasion.

Gabe and Calypso have been hanging out at the pasture gate with Chief, so I thought I'd try to put Chief in with them and let the herd dynamics work itself out. I knew Gabe would be bottom man again, and that would be fine.

Chief is 21-years-old and he's the epitome of a grumpy old man. He picks on Calypso, as is evidenced by the bite and kick marks she comes in from the pasture with daily.

Doesn't he even LOOK grumpy? If he were human, he'd sit on his front porch in a rickety old rocker with a shotgun over his knees and scream at the kids to get off his lawn.

Anyway, all was going as expected yesterday. Chief went after Gabe, walloped him a good one in the side, and went off to graze while Gabe galloped to the other end of the pasture. About 20 minutes later Chief went after him again. Gabe valiantly attempted to defend himself and managed to perform a pretty impressive capriole that looked a whole lot like this one:
He's definitely an athletic guy! I was QUITE impressed and so was Robert. Robert's comment was: "Now, if you could just teach him to do that on command..."

More chasing ensued at regular intervals yesterday, but little kicking went on so I wasn't too worried. These things must be settled in a herd, right?

Completely different story this morning. Chief went after Gabe ceaselessly, running him around the pasture, cornering him and kicking at him. At least twice he nearly chased Gabe through the fence and it got to the point where Gabe just stood by the water tank dripping sweat and shaking. A lover, not a fighter. He was trying his best to stay out of Chief's way but he couldn't seem to get far enough. The pasture they were in is a good 3.5 acres so he had plenty of room to move out of the way...but apparently not far enough for Chief.

Gabe's attitude and demeanor completely changed when Chief was in the pasture with him. He was obviously very worried, scared, tense and seemed to have lost a lot of confidence just in a couple of hours. When I went in the pasture the big guy was practically clinging to me like I was going to protect him. It is my job to protect him, right?

While I would like to have a happy little horse herd, it's just not going to happen. The last thing I want to risk is Gabe colicking over the stress, going through the fence or wrenching a leg while trying to get away from Chief, the big old grumpy bully.

Chief can just live in a pasture all by his grumpy self and Calypso can be "top man" in the little herd of two. I'm sure she'll appreciate not being bullied, kicked and bitten by Chief.

We are in the process of putting up fence for a fourth pasture, which is around the same size as the 3.5 acre pasture. It should be done some time this week. Robert and my oldest daughter, Alexis, put in t-posts this weekend and I dug post holes for the corners. All the t-posts got capped with insulators today and the wooden corner posts will be concreted in tonight. We just need to install a gate and string up three strands of the electric rope. I LOVE the electric rope! It's visible, strong, attractive and delivers quite the shock when touched.

The new pasture hasn't had horses on it for about three years, but I've kept it mowed to keep the weeds away and we overseeded it this spring. It's absolutely GORGEOUS! Timothy, alfalfa, orchardgrass, clovers, brome and fescue are in great abundance and very thick. I can't keep up with the mowing it's growing so nicely. It will be nice to have one more pasture to add to my pasture rotation schedule. Next year, we will hopefully be able to get two more pastures fenced. Part of one of them is currently serving as my arena, but it will be nice to have it fenced in....just in case.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A visit from the foot dude

I knew Gabe had been shod previously, but I was a little worried about his reaction to our farrier. Not because he's a big, scary guy, but because he drives a big, scary truck.

Gabe was an absolute Angel. He stood beautifully and didn't even drool on Don, our farrier. He did, however, keep attempting to undress Don by trying to eat his chaps and his hat. Silly boy nearly fell asleep while getting his tootsies all trimmed up and fixed. No shoes this time around. I won't have shoes put on him until I start riding him and right now, without much stress on those feet, his hooves look fabulous. Don was impressed with the quality of his feet, considering Thoroughbreds have notoriously craptacular feet.

He doesn't look the least bit worried about what's going on with his feet, does he?

See what I get to look at the entire time Gabe is getting his feet done? Not that I'm complaining or anything.

It was at this point that he started falling asleep while I rubbed his ears. He LOVES to have the insides of his ears rubbed. He moans and groans and closes his eyes when I get my fingers down in there and rub the heck out of 'em. Many of the horses I've met in my life tended to be a little bit ear shy. Not Gabe. I can practically tickle his brain while with my fingers while giving him an ear rub and he pushes against me for more.

My husband's horse, Calypso, waiting her turn for the nippers, rasp and hammer. She too, is very nosy and curious. She couldn't get enough of trying to steal Don's horse shoes right out of his truck.

On another note, Gabe showed his supremely playful side while I was filling his water tank yesterday. That big booger walked up for some scratches and lovin', then reached over, snatched the hose out of the tank and attempted to run off with it! He managed to soak me in the process. Goof.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

What do you mean I have to STAND?

We have run in to a little blip. A very fixable blip, but one that always scares me to work through.

Gabe DOES NOT like to stand tied. Not at all. Racehorses aren't tied to a fixed post on the track, they are generally held or cross-tied, which is a very different feeling than tied to a post. I figured he'd have some tying issues, but failed to realize how very big and very strong he is when he's in Oh-my-God-I'm-Going-To-DIE!!! mode.

I have (had?) a 4X4 post sunk into the ground in concrete with a tie ring that I use to tie the horses up. It's pretty solid and sturdy. Well, I THOUGHT it was until I tied Gabe up and he went ape-shit when I fly sprayed him. He was fine when I sprayed his right side and since we've been working on spraying the left side, I thought he'd be okay as long as I went slowly and gave him enough time to think about it.

Wrong! He went straight backwards, hard and fast. Thank goodness he didn't go up! Star used to go up and back from time to time when I first got her...she also did not like to stand tied to a fixed object. She busted the snaps on about five lead ropes before we finally got that issue sorted through. Because she liked to go up and back, I used a lariat around her girth, through the halter ring and snubbed to a tree and let her just stand there. If she pulled back, she punished herself. She did pull a few times, figured out it hurt and we never had another issue.

Gabe did not bust the snap. Instead, he busted and shifted my post. Robert (my husband) and I both heard the thing CRAAACKK! when he went backwards and he bent the tie ring, which, by the way, is rated for 5,000# of pressure. For the record, quick release knots DO NOT come loose very easily when a horse has had a panic attack on the end of it and tightened that sucker up good and snug.

Scary stuff! I wasn't scared for myself, because I know how to move out of the way when I need to...I was worried about him breaking his neck or busting that post entirely off and taking off with it beating the crap out of his legs and scaring him even more. Nothing good can happen when a horse his size decides he doesn't want to stand tied any more.

But, he's smart and learns fast. Once he realized that stepping forward was the ONLY way to stop the pressure of the rope halter digging into his face, he stepped forward. I untied him, led him around for a few minutes, and tied him back up. He went back again, but without quite the same amount of enthusiasm as the first time. Going backwards HURTS! I told him to "WHOAH!" in my lowest "do it NOW or pay the price!" voice and he stopped pulling and stepped forward to relieve the pressure on his head again.

He did not figure out that he is big and strong by being able to get away...he learned the rope and the halter are bigger and stronger than he is, so I will consider this a lesson well-learned.

I tied him up again last night, fully prepared for a repeat of the first experience. Not once did he make a move to pull back and act like an idiot. Is he fixed? Nope, not yet. I'm sure he has a few more moron moments at the post in him, I just have to be ready for it. But until Robert digs the out current, cracked post and replaces it with a bigger one set even deeper, I'm not going to push it. I don't think I'll have to resort to the lariat with him, but I am prepared to use it if needed.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Beginning

Four years ago my wonderful, beloved Thoroughbred mare, Star, died from colic. She died on Mother's Day. I was heartbroken and not really ready for another horse of my own. Two years after her death I really started looking for another OTTB. Sure, I'd looked on and off, but nothing really caught my attention. None of them seemed to fit what I was looking for. During that time Chief, a 20-year-old Appaloosa, found his way to our farm. He belongs to my youngest daughter and he's about as reliable and steady as they come. A year after Chief made his way into our hearts, we found Calypso, a 7-year-old quarter horse mare who seems to be a good match for my husband. She is a little spunky, and at the moment, quite fat off the lush pastures, but she's learning to settle down and be a nice, quiet trail horse for my man.

On Sept. 7, 2008 Gabe came home. One of my jockey friends knew I was looking and not having much luck and pointed me in the direction of a trainer friend of hers who had a horse for sale. He was an utter failure on the track. Dead last in every race but one. She wasn't advertising him because she wanted him to find the perfect home, not just any old home. His price was a bit more than I had budgeted, and I was a little hesitant to make the nearly three hour drive up to the Indiana border to see him. In his pictures he was ideal in so many ways and I was afraid I'd fall in love and have to make a monetary choice to not bring him home.

My wonderful husband insisted we go look at him and assured me that if he was "The One" we'd make it work.

He was "The One." At 16.2hh he has such a commanding presence! He's playful and has quite the personality. Such GORGEOUS gates! When he trots, he floats on air. When he canters it's all power and grace. I fell in love and I made a deal with the owner. It was a deal we all could live with.

He is going to be a challenge to train, but a fun challenge. I love fun challenges. He's never really been taught halter manners and he's never been ridden except to run his heart out. He's not too spooky and not the least bit hot. Sure, he jumps at startling things, but he figures them out quickly and wants to check them out. He's curious and most of the time, very brave. He's smart and learns quickly, which certainly adds to the challenge.

My goal with Gabe is to have a sane, sound, fun horse to trail ride, fox hunt and do some lower level eventing with.

Gabriel's official Jockey Club pedigree

Yes, his "official" name is Stick n Rudder. His previous owner dubbed him Sticker and I just couldn't see myself standing outside and yelling "Sticker! Come here!" so, after much contemplation and observation of him, he earned Gabriel. I call him Gabe, or, when he's feeling extra frisky, The Gabe-ster. He seems to like it.