Monday, December 14, 2009

Waiting for more daylight

I am SO excited! Do you know what next week is?

Dec. 21 is the winter solstice...which means Dec. 22 will have one more minute of daylight than the previous day...and slowly but surely we'll see more and more sunlight every day until summer. More daylight! YAY!

That just makes me so happy. I'm so tired of feeding my horses in the dark in the morning and at night, never able to ride because it's either A) Dark or B) Muddy. As in really, really muddy. The mud has been absolutely ridiculous this year. One of my goals was to have lights up in the riding arena before the Dark Months this year, but that didn't happen. Of course, it probably wouldn't have mattered if I had lights this year any way, it's been so muddy riding in the arena would be a disaster. Add to the mud all the mole tunnels (the poison DID NOT work, by the way) and it's a broken leg waiting to happen. Ugh. Needless to say, I don't get much riding/training done during the winter.

I've put Gabe back on the long reins a few times, but the mud is so bad it's kind of unfair to ask him to do much in it and he just ends up slipping and sliding all over the place.

Sometimes I wonder why I keep my beasties at home instead of at a nice barn with an indoor arena somewhere where I can ride through these dark, cold months.

Then I look outside and see them playing or sleeping or running and remember how very happy they are in their little herd living on my little piece of heaven and I know why I have them at home.

I'd have it no other way.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

PDAs

The boys like to pretend they can't stand each other. When they know you're watching, Chief pins his ears at Gabe and Gabe tucks tail and runs.

But when they don't realize you're watching...


They are makin' kissy faces at each other. Silly boys!

*smoochy smoochy smoochy!*



Uh oh! She's watching us! Quick, run away!



(Please ignore the muddiness that is my horses. No matter how many times I groom them clean, they are back out there grinding it in again.)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Three big piggies

I'm not much of a betting person.

Occasionally, I go to the track to watch the ponies run and I blow a few bucks on the filly in my favorite colored silks.

But today, I'm willing to bet my horses are dirtier than yours. It's a fine art, and they have it perfected. The week's worth of nonstop rain has certainly aided their quest for ultimate dirtiness.




I mean, really. Come on, Gabe. Is this NECESSARY? Seriously? It's CAKED on there, ground in and just all around nasty. Pssst...you missed a spot. I see some clean hair right there behind your elbow.





And you'd think, as a girl, Calypso would be a little bit more conscientious about the health and cleanliness of her hair. Not so. She gets just as dirty and nasty as the boys.


I'm willing to bet he considers it a challenge. Must. Be. Dirtier. Than the GIRL! MUST!

Face, eyelashes and mane? Check.

Butt? Tail? Back? Withers? Check. Check. Check.


Ha! I WIN! WHEE!!!

Hey horses? You and the mud win. I give up. You can officially be known as pigs from now on!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Havin' a ball

Well, I finally got a new camera! Yay! I can once again take decent photos of my family and my critters.

Remember how I've mentioned how playful Gabe is? I think I've said something about it once or twice.

This is MY ball. Don't touch.

I love my ball. Ball! It's squishy and chewy. Ball!

Nom! Nom! Nom! Nom!

Hey! Come play with me! Please please please!

Dudes! Where you going? Get back here!!!! HEY! I'll share my ball! HEY! COME BACK!!!

*sigh* They left me. At least I'm handsome. I'll just stand by this gate and wait my turn to be let out into the pasture. They always get to go first. It's not fair. *sigh*

This is for my mom. PoPo and HoneyBaked. Quickly approaching goal weight for bacon, ham and chops.

Pigs and goats dig in to breakfast. The goats are PUSHY and like to steal the piggies food even though they have their own.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Train the brain

I love those "ah ha!" moments when everything comes together oh-so nicely. I've still been having some of those occasional fart around like a nutcase issues with Gabe. He hasn't had a rearing episode since the one I wrote about a couple of months ago, but he does threaten from time to time.

Over the weekend I got on and he was being pretty good. Really looky at things and practically skipping around on his tiptoes. It probably didn't help that we've been working on enlarging the arena so things looked different AND I hadn't ridden in about a week. Nice combo, eh?

We were walking around the arena, just relaxing and warming up. I hadn't been on for even five minutes when I felt it. The rounding-up and tension throughout his entire body that indicates he's just about ready to lose his ever-lovin' mind and either start threatening to rear OR start squealing like a silly mare and flinging his head around and jumping/hopping around like a crazy beast. As soon as I felt that tension (it feels a lot like riding what I imagine a SuperBall on a huge upward bounce would feel like) I sent him forward as quickly as I could. Squeeze to trot. No immediate response. Squeeze again applied with a sharp whip tap. Immediate response. I knew I didn't have time to screw around with it - I had to get him moving forward as quickly as I possibly could to get him out of that nutcase brain fart he sometimes gets stuck in.

And it worked! I felt him relax as soon as I gave him something else to concentrate on: Trotting. We trotted for awhile, constantly circling or changing direction or attempting to adjust the stride. We did nothing for longer than 10 strides before I changed it up on him to keep his mind thinking forward and active. Then we work on walk/trot and trot/walk/halt transitions...again, constantly changing everything...direction, bend, stride, gait...as much as I possibly could without looking too much like a drunken foxhunter without a goal.

I even popped him over an 18" log a couple of times and rode the resultant canter with a huge goofy grin on my face. What a good, good boy! What an incredible canter! And I think he enjoys jumping...he was eager each time we went over, ears pricked forward and ready to go over. Granted...it was an 18" log, but it's a start, yes? We went for a short trail ride after our arena session and once again, he was curious about his surroundings and happy to be out and about, but definitely not freaking out or acting like a nut.

So, I think I can rule out any kind of pain or uncomfortableness he is having under saddle causing the goof-nut rearing/head tossing issues. Because once I got him working forward and kept him working forward those issues were GONE. As soon as I let him just wander around on his own and really not ask him to do anything, I felt the tension starting to rise again, and off we'd go, back to work. It's almost like he's like a bored little kid who plays practical jokes and engages in inappropriate behavior just to amuse himself.

As long as his brain is engaged, life is good.

I once rode a little Warmblood mare during my stint as a barn manager in Florida. This little chestnut mare (I wish I could remember her name! It was something long and European) had every one convinced she was a fruitcake. She could be fruitcakey, there is no question about that. The first night she was at the barn she stood at her stall door all night long and pawed and pawed and pawed and dug a hole the depth of her front legs. I remember walking into the barn in the morning and seeing only the tips of her ears in the stall. The rest of her sweat-drenched 15.3hh body was in the hole. She got turned out to pasture permanently after that! But her biggest fruitcake antic that kept most off her back was her tendency to want to toss in a crow-hop, buck and head toss just randomly throughout her rides. She wasn't being malicious, she was being bored, in my opinion. Because, like Gabe, as soon as you got her working and kept her working both physically and mentally, she was an absolute joy to ride and gave whatever you asked. But, she was definitely not one of those horses you could just sit on and wander around the arena while chitchatting with a friend. She wanted to work and be challenged and if you didn't do it, she'd do it for you.

I sure hope I'm able to come up with enough "stuff" to keep Gabe's brain engaged and fend off boredom for him. I'm going to have to really start planning my rides a little better just so I'm not out there going ...."Uhhh...what next?"

Monday, November 2, 2009

And now, the other two

Gabe and his silly little boy antics have been hogging up this blog and I thought I'd spend a moment to shine the spotlight on the other two nags who share our lives.

I wish I had pictures of the other two, but alas, my camera finally, permanently bit the big one Saturday night. Yes, every single Halloween photo I thought I had of my youngest are all kaput. Blur central. And once I turned it off, it refused to turn back on, even with brand-new batteries. So, it now resides in the Dumpster. Hopefully I'll be buying a new, better camera sooner rather than later!

Onward...

Chief is my daughter's buddy. He's a 25-year-old (or so) Appy who would hang the moon for her if it were possible. I don't know a lot about his history but I do know this: He spent most of his life on one of those rent-by-the-hour trail riding stables. I imagine he had to put up with a LOT of crap and bad riding and cowboying around in those days. From there, he was bought by the owner of the last barn I boarded at as a potential dressage horse. Nevermind this old guy was already 22 years old and had most likely NEVER seen a dressage arena in his life, that was his new lot.

And he failed miserably. He did not like to go in circles, he found it pointless. He did not, would not, lengthen or shorten his strides, he found it useless. He was completely befuddled by requests for any kind of lateral movement. He wanted to trail ride and just bop around without expending too terribly much extra energy. So, he came to us. He's one of those one-in-a-million freebies who are worth far more than their weight in gold. He and Kayleigh clicked and it's obvious he prefers her over anyone else. That kid can do anything with him and he never says NO to anything she asks of him. She rides him bareback in a halter, she pops him over little jumps and ditches, stands on him and lays on him with her head on his wide, spotted butt. She rides him up and down hills and dresses him up as an Indian pony. There are days when he absolutely refuses to be caught by me. He doesn't run, he stays JUUUSST out of reach, which is far more frustrating than those who run! But if Kayleigh walks out there, he's practically in her pocket and following her around like a giant happy puppy.

He can be quite grumpy and has earned the nickname Grumpy Old Man. He has earned his right to be grumpy, in my opinion, and as long as he's not nasty and mean grumpy, he can be as grumpy as he wants to be. He is definitely top dog in our little herd and no one gets away with crap while he's at the helm.

The old man will be with us until the day he dies. He's earned it and he definitely deserves it. He takes good care of Kayleigh and I think he enjoys his life of leisure and his job as babysitter. He's our go-to guy that anyone can ride. Quiet enough for beginners but he definitely knows when there's an experienced rider on board! He has been known to test and challenge the experienced riders just to see how much he can get away with. He's getting a little bit arthritic in his fetlock joints and his body creaks and pops regularly, but he's not lame. He's in good shape for an old guy and hopefully, he'll stay that way for many more years. But I keep a close eye on him to make sure he stays comfortable. Because as soon as he is no longer comfortable doing his work, he'll be retired.

Calypso is my husband's little quarter horse mare. She's 9 now and has definitely matured in the few years we've had her. When we brought her home she was fast and a bit hot and very, very green. She liked to go fast with her head in the air and her stop sometimes worked, sometimes didn't. The woman we bought her from sold her because she was scared of her and I'll admit, she could be scary to a timid rider.

I spent about six months retraining her and teaching her how to be quiet and responsive and how to spook "responsibly" if she felt the need to spook. She was a turn tail and run spooker, now, she stands and stares. She still has the occasional "OH MY GOD!" moment, but those are far, far fewer than they were two years ago. When she spooks she has the tendency to completely disappear from beneath the rider. I swear she comes from strong cutting horse stock....her whole body drops about a foot when she spooks and she can whip that front end around like no one's business! At least she doesn't run away from the scary stuff any more, she just drops and stares. She's still not as bombproof as I'd like her to be, but she is definitely better than what she started out as.

She now neck reins very nicely and I put a little bit of lateral work on her, mostly for Robert's amusement. He gets a kick out of being able to make her go sideways or do a slow spin on her. Her trot is the absolute WORST trot I've ever been on. Worst. Far worse than any bouncy little pony I've ever ridden! It's a whole lot like riding a jackhammer and incredibly uncomfortable to try to sit. She is built like a tank on peg legs...very straight shoulder, very straight pasterns and a bit butt high on a huge, solid body. When she does her nice western pleasure trot it's a bit easier to sit, but definitely not anything you'd want to ride for any kind of extended time.

Calypso is Robert's pocket pony and really adores it when he goes out there to love on her. She rests her head on his shoulder and stands right next to him practically begging for scratches and attention. She is fat. Too fat despite my efforts to slim her down. She gets barely any grain and only grass hay. What she REALLY needs is more consistent riding and plenty of wet saddle pads. Unfortunately, Robert is a mostly a weekend trail rider, which is what he enjoys doing, but it's doing nothing for the fat nag he rides!

Calypso is the only horse on our farm that requires shoes. She has very thin soles and is practically dead lame on any rocky or hard surface if she's barefoot.

And you all know Gabe! I need to start thinking up a "show name" for him for next show season. I'd prefer to keep Gabriel in the name somewhere, so all suggestions are welcome. And for those who are curious, his Jockey Club registered name is "Stick N Rudder." *Gag* His breeder was a WWII pilot. Explains the name, doesn't it?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A tale of two houses

Most of the time I really don't mind not having a "real" barn. I don't have to clean stalls every day, which seriously saves not only my time, but the cost of shavings for three horses. Shavings tend to be the biggest cost for most horse owners! My horses lives outside 24/7 and seem to be quite happy about it. I don't have to worry about them going stall stir-crazy or acting like complete idiots after they've been cooped up for some time.

But when it rains and rains and rains, I do wish I had a barn. Not necessarily because I think the horses would be happier in stalls, but because it is such a pain in the butt to scrape the mud from them before I ride. It would also be really, really nice not to have to slog through the water and mud to feed every day. I don't think the horses really care too much though, but a real barn would certainly be a convenience for me!

Gabe's shed was completed about a month after he came home and he LOOOVES his house. It's 12'x16' and I keep it bedded for him. He sleeps in his run-in. He stands in his run-in when he gets tired of standing in the rain and it stays pretty dry in there unless the wind is blowing the rain sideways. We built up the floor about 8 inches with gravel and fines to keep it out of any standing water. We do get a lot of rain!

It's nothing fancy, but it does it's job. I clean it out probably twice a week and bed only with straw. Gabe definitely takes advantage of the straw bed and in the morning you can see his body impression in the bedding as well as plenty of golden wisps stuck to his body. I also feed him in there. He is a big pig when it comes to his hay and likes to pee on it if I feed him on the ground, so, he gets his hay out of a net. Nothing wastes hay faster than a horse who has a bizarre need to pee on it! He makes a mess of his hay net hay, too, but because the mess is in a corner, he can't really get to it to pee on it, thank goodness! I'm considering one of those small hole mesh hay nets to keep him from pulling so much out of it at once.

Now...we bought all the materials for two run-ins at the same time. The first one was built in less than a month.

The second one? Well....it's still not completely done and it's been well over a year!
At least it has a roof and footing, right?


What is really, really frustrating is we've had to buy all new siding for the second run-in because apparently, sheets of wood don't do very well lying outside in the elements for a whole year. Grrr...

Calypso seems to really appreciate having the shed to stand in. Chief, not so much. He won't go into it unless enticed, Calypso stands in there pretty frequently.

I am hoping (and crossing my fingers!) that the siding will go up on their run-in some time this weekend. Once we get the walls up I'll have to add another four or five inches of footing to it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Save me from the swamp moles!

Ahh...fall. I love fall: The changing leaves, the crisp, cool air, spirited horses, Halloween, bonfires and prepping the gardens for spring. I've already planted about 200 more tulip, daffodil, narcissus, anemone, crocus and iris bulbs/rhizomes. I'm looking forward to seeing them come up in the spring!

However, I can really do without the mud. Rain, I like. Mud, I hate.

I hate the mud pit the paddocks so quickly become after a week of rain. And those silly animals prefer to stand IN the rain, in the mud, instead of going to hang out in their dry, cozy run-in sheds. Chief and Calypso aren't all too fond of their shed, but Gabe, he LOVES his. My family refers to him as Eeyore when he's out there, standing in his run-in, napping with his head down. He kind of does resemble Eeyore a bit, especially on those gray, gray rainy days when there's really nothing to do but hang out in the shed and sleep. I can almost hear him mumbling to himself in Eeyore's deep, woe-is-me voice!

I hate that the mud ruins my training program. I can't very well get out there and work on transitions or lateral work when the "arena" is pastern deep with sucking mud. And we've a recent infestation of MOLES which have done no favors to the condition of my turf arena. Ugh. Just when it was starting to look really, really nice the moles moved in and destroyed a big section of it practically over night.

Yes, I did put poison out for them, much to the dismay of my youngest, Kayleigh. However, when I asked her if she'd rather me kill the moles or have to put her horse down because he broke a leg in one of the mole hills, she was a bit more understanding. I certainly don't relish poisoning the moles, but they can't make their homes in my arena. I haven't seen any dead ones yet, so hopefully they'll just die underground. Wow, that makes me sound horrible. But having your horse tripping through mole hills, holes and tunnels is NOT a fun experience.

We've had the wettest October ON RECORD here. There hasn't been much riding because it seems like it's constantly raining. Constantly. As in every. single. day. I've been able to ride a few times during the month, but, of course, when I can't ride Gabe consistently each ride is a "reminder" session instead of a session where I can introduce something a bit new or work on something we had issues with last time.

If I don't ride regularly he behaves like a nutty juvenile for the first 10 min. of each session before he'll settle down enough to get to work. Some days, his work ethic is non-existent and we do nothing but very basic things like going and stopping and turning because he just can't seem to concentrate on anything other than the basics.

Other days, he's all for giving it his best effort and we can try harder concepts, like lateral movements, changes within the gait, bending, connectedness and transitions. I never know which horse I'm going to get when I climb up there! It's a good thing I truly enjoy the challenge that is Gabe, but I admit, sometimes his "baby behavior" can be incredibly frustrating.

I have upped my own fitness program to keep up with him, especially as he is gaining muscle with the work we are doing. I'm weight training 4 days a week, doing Pilates and Yoga 3 days a week and on those three days, I also do some kind of cardio (walking/jogging, jump rope, one of my cardio videos). I'm already feeling stronger, more balanced and improved overall.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A fall day after the rains


Mmmm....grass!


What? You don't like my mud bath look? You hate it when I grind, grind, grind that mud into my ears and nose? It feels SOOO good! You may call me Pig Horse now, thank you.


Well, hello there, wee one. Have you any peppermints for me? I'll take some peppermints if you have them.


C'mon Chief you KNOW you want to scratch my butt for me. It's SOOO itchy! Scratch me, please. Please?


Psst...Calypso. If he comes over here, we're gonna run, okay? Don't let him catch you!


Go go go! It's keep away from Gabe day! Run!


Ha ha! Slowpokes! Catch me if you can! You can't 'cause I'm The Man!

By the way...all the piles of dirt and heavy equipment you can see in the background in some of the shots is the TransCanadian pipeline going in. As much as I hate the noise (and the 7 day a week work!) and heavy equipment, I'm pretty darn sure my horses are now bombproof to just about any heavy equipment, chainsaw, noise and marker ribbons flapping as they can possibly get.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Hee hee!

I'm so busy I don't know if I found a rope or lost my horse!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Here a circle, there a circle

It's the little accomplishments and successes that make all the failures and frustrations worthwhile. Isn't that we all aim for? Those successes that make your heart soar and paste a great big ole goofy grin on your face.

Gabe's balance on circles and straightness in balance have been improving very, very slowly. He's a lot of horse to keep balanced and he isn't very forgiving at all if I'm the least bit off balance. He definitely forces a darn near perfect ride if I want to get anything out of him! He lets me know right away if I'm dropping a hip or a shoulder....he moves away from it crookedly. If I just try to haul him around corners using just the bridle he turns like a tug boat, not a horse. He absolutely insists that I include my body to turn him: hips, core, leg, shoulders, head.

Today we managed two very nearly perfect figure 8s. I know what you're thinking: "Two? Really? You're excited about TWO?" Why yes, I am! He was rounded, balanced, moving forward with controlled energy and really reaching for the bit and lifting his back.

It was absolutely delightful to ride! Of course, those were probably the two most exhausting figure 8s I've ever ridden, he definitely made me work for them, but they were well, well worth it! After the second nearly perfect circle we walked, I made a great big huge deal out of him and I gave him his head and just let him wander around the arena for a while. It's one of those things I think is important to do from time to time: Just let them make their own decisions during the ride. It's one of those important qualities an event horse should have, decision making! As long as he keeps moving forward, I don't care where he goes. At that point, I'm no more than a passenger.

Gabe is the first gray horse I've ever owned. My dream horse was always imagined as a dappled gray. I never thought I'd actually own one, but, here we are!

One thing I've noticed about him is he is constantly itchy. Insanely itchy and itchy all over. It's not so bad that he's rubbing himself raw or anything, but bad enough that he spends quite a bit of time under one of the low-hanging tree limbs just itching his neck, butt and back on it. His ears get this really nasty gunky black buildup inside them if I don't clean them a couple times a week and the inside of those ears are so danged itchy I can shove my towel-covered fingers way, way down in them to itch and he LOVES it. Sometimes I think I'm gonna touch his brain I get so deep! He moans and groans and his eyes roll up into his head while I itch all the gunk out of the deep insides of his ears. It drives me crazy that he's so itchy because I can't even begin to imagine going through life with so many itchies and no hands to scratch them!

So, today, after his bath I rubbed and groomed an aloe/lanolin horse coat conditioner into his entire body. I'm hoping a little extra moisture on his itchy skin will help him be LESS itchy. I also picked up some soothing oatmeal shampoo for his body, so here's hoping the combo of the two will help relieve some of his itchiness. Other than being itchy, his coat looks fabulous. All the horses are already shedding out their summer coats in preparation for those winter coats. Gabe's winter coat is coming in dark, dark, dark and extremely dappled. He looks FABULOUS!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Sweet, sweet success

Two hours.

That's how long we were out trail riding today. The temperature? About 75 and a tad humid. The sky? Sunny with a bit of a cooling breeze.

The horses? WONDERFUL!

We encountered cows, cars, scary rustling cornfields, farm equipment, a barking dog, hills, mud, mud puddles, fields, ditch crossings and one big creek crossing. Gabe stepped right into the creek without hesitating, reached down for a sip, played in the water with his lips then started pawing and folding his knees. That booger was gonna ROLL in the water! But I kicked him on and prevented that little inconvenience. At least I know he's not terrified of water puddles, always a good trait to have.

The scariest thing on the whole ride was riding next to the dry, rustling cornfields. He wasn't too sure about all that noise! And when birds fluttered through the field, it was way too scary and he had to snort and jump at it. By the end of the ride, the cornfields were no longer an issue for him at all. Cars along the road didn't phase him a bit. The barking dog caught his attention, but wasn't a big deal either. Even the cows running up to the fence to visit didn't get his dander up. He pricked his ears at them, snorted, and walked on. No big deal.

He did prance a bit at some points and did his head flinging thing a few times, but nothing major, just him feeling good. We rode most of the ride on a nice loose rein with him just looking around and watching things.

However...I need a new saddle. This is the longest ride we've had and the ill saddle fit just won't work for long rides. Shorter rides are okay, not ideal by any means, but okay. When I pulled the saddle off after our trail ride he had one big bump right on his spine where the narrow channel was pinching him. I've known the saddle didn't fit perfectly, but I guess I didn't realize how imperfectly it fit until after this ride. It also needs to be reflocked, but there isn't a local saddler that can do that and I'm really hesitant to give up my only saddle for 6+ weeks to get it reflocked. I guess it's time to start saddle shopping! I hate saddle shopping...but most of all, I HATE the price tags on those saddles. *sigh* I guess I need to get out there and take a couple of tracings of his back so I can find one that really fits him. I have a couple in mind, I just need to get out to the tack shop and sit in them.

He has a high wither, but he's much, much wider than most Thoroughbreds, so he's going to be a tough fit. I think I'll go with the interchangeable gullet saddle this time around, just because I know his back is going to continue to change shape as he gets fitter.

I wouldn't be surprised at all if his occasional misbehavior is a direct result of the pinching saddle. I would be pissed too if my gear pinched and the person responsible for it didn't remedy the situation!

I'm very proud of my big guy...he's definitely a gem! Even with occasional tantrums he throws.

Friday, September 4, 2009

I think they know when you brag on them

Why is it that every time I'm feeling really good about Gabe's progress he throws a curve at me and makes me feel like I'm a blithering idiot? Horses. Sheesh.

I spent all night and most of this morning trying to figure out what might have happened to cause Gabe to engage in some extreme behavior that I've never had to deal with him before. I think I have figured it out, but will have to get back in the saddle to test my theory.

Last night Gabe reared. And reared. And reared. These weren't little rears either, these were nearly vertical, scary rears. I bailed on the fourth rear because he seemed to be getting higher and more unstable with each one and I am absolutely terrified of a horse going over backwards on me. I can deal with being kicked, bit, stomped on, dragged, bucked off and otherwise abused, but getting squished between a 1,300 pound animal and the ground is on my list of things that should never, ever happen. I would much rather get on a bucking horse than a rearing horse any day of the week.

I landed badly when I bailed and am a bit sore today, but nothing a little Tylenol won't fix.

Gabe is fine. He reared a couple more times after I bailed then wandered over to a tree near Calypso and started munching away.

After much thought and reflection, I think I know what happened. Kayleigh was riding Calypso and Gabe decided his only goal in life last night was to follow Calypso around. Add an approaching storm complete with rumbling thunder, a drop in temperature, a breeze that was picking up and increasingly heavy sprinkles and I had a recipe that ended in an explosion.

Every single time I turned him away to head in a direction opposite from her, he balked and objected to the command. Right before the rearing episode he got really pissed off because I turned him away from her and he planted his feet. I squeezed to make him walk forward and he kept those feet planted. I squeezed again. No response. So I KICKED and up he went. The first rear was a little one but I was so startled by that unexpected response that I grabbed reins instead of mane and balanced off his mouth which most likely didn't feel so great. Of course, the pain in his mouth from my uncouth and rude response to his rearing most likely panicked him more, so he reared again, higher. It was a nasty, self-perpetuating situation. The higher he reared, the more I wound up pulling on his mouth and the more unbalanced I became. The more I pulled on his mouth because I'd lost my balance, the more he reacted.

I caught that booger easily, re-adjusted my saddle which had slipped backwards a few inches, and got back up. Shaking? Yes, I was. But I took a few big, deep breaths and relaxed so my fear/tension wouldn't transfer to him and asked for a nice forward walk. He complied as if nothing had happened. He still wanted to follow Calypso but was more inclined to listen to me than he was before he came entirely undone. I worked him for another 15 minutes, concentrating on keeping him away from the object of his affection and concentrating solely on me. Lots of circles, changes within the gait, halts, neck yields, rein backs and leg yields to get his mind in the game and not on the mare. I finally got his brain back and he was good.

We ended on a beautiful rein back and a walk around the ring on a loose rein.

So, in picking this incident apart I have determined two things:

1. His forward button is still quite sticky. This whole issue started because he refused to go forward when requested. That is what I will be concentrating on for the next few weeks with him. I've been kind of giving him a bit of a pass on responding immediately with plenty of forward energy to my leg cues because I didn't want to push him past his limits. As long as he went forward, I was happy, even if he was dragging butt the entire time. His pass is hereby revoked. I will be much, much more aggressive in requiring immediate compliance to the forward cues. This is not negotiable. It is absolutely imperative that the "I don't wanna and you can't make me" balkiness be wiped entirely from his response repertoire.

2. My balance isn't what it used to be and I need to bump up my own fitness routine to get it back to where it was. I should have had enough strength and self-balance to stay out of his mouth. I know I am capable of it but I've let things get a little "lax" over the years. I know better, I can do better and I'm quite disappointed in myself that I was the issue that caused the situation to escalate from disobedience to a very dangerous situation.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Where has summer gone? I've ridden it away!

Time flies, doesn't it? I've been so busy riding and playing with my ponies that I put the blog on the back burner.

Our weather has been spectacularly amazing in every sense of the word. Cool and sunny and PERFECT for riding and you betcha I've taken advantage of every beautiful daylight moment as I can. All too soon I'll be complaining about the short days and icy conditions that keep my butt out of the saddle.

My husband, daughter and myself also started a fitness program at the beginning of August. We are walking/jogging two miles four days a week. This week we are bumping it up to five days a week and 2.5 miles. I need to lose weight and get into better shape if I am going to do Gabe any justice at all. He's a big, powerful ride and I need the fitness and strength to ride him to his fullest.

I took Gabe on his first "long" trail ride last weekend with my husband on Calypso acting as the "guard pony." We wandered up through the woods and into the neighbor's field where we startled a man sitting on a motorcycle hidden in the weeds. I think we startled him more than he startled the horses! I was pretty surprised to see him there and may have even squealed a bit before I said "OH MY GOD! You scared the crap out of me!" Gabe just glanced at him and kept on marching. He takes everything in stride. He marches along wonderfully on the trail, nice and forward but relaxed. His ears are flicking around and he's really paying attention to his surroundings, but he's not reacting at all, just watching. Excellent! We came across a part of the trail where a tree had partially fallen across the path. It's upper length was wedged in the high crook of a tree a good 12 feet up. There was no going around it or over it. We'd have to go under it. Calypso walked right under it without a second thought. Gabe, on the other hand, wasn't quite so sure about going beneath it. There was plenty of room, but it freaked him out. My wonderful husband jumped off Calypso and led Gabe under the tree...and he went right under. Good boy! We had one snort and startle when a rabbit dashed out of the tall grasses right in front of him, but definitely not any kind of spook to speak of. He's on his way to becoming an excellent trail horse...and hopefully and equally excellent fox hunter and eventer.

I think I may have fixed the head flinging issue simply by working him and ignoring it. I truly do think it was exuberance and youth more than anything else. He did it mostly at the beginning of the ride and always threw a bit of a hop in with the fling and squeal, very similar to what I've seen him do when he's trying to convince Chief or Calypso to play with him in the field.

Last night's ride involved two very, very half-hearted attempts at the fling and squeal in the first five minutes of the ride. I could feel him think about flinging and instead, he dropped his neck and gave a little squeal. As soon as he did it I turned him in a small circle and sent him forward. It was our best ride yet. As soon as he indulged his half-hearted head flings and one little obligatory teleportation spook at nothing in particular, I had his full attention for the rest of the half hour ride.

We now have turns that are closer to power steering than driving a train. I discovered less rein is best with getting a good turn and bend from him. I changed up his bit AGAIN and I think I found a good match. He's now in a Myler wide barrel loose ring comfort snaffle and he LOVES it. The overly exaggerated playing with the bit, grinding and chewing is gone. He still chews and reaches, but softly, with plenty of drool and foam to go along with it. And the turns are so much better in this bit.

We have transitions (up and down) that are immediate and mostly hot off my leg. We do have the occasional "I don't WANT to and you can't make me," tantrum, but those are over pretty quickly because I continue to insist, quietly and consistently, that he give me just ONE step of the requested action. Our downward transitions require NO rein! Yay! This was one of my ultimate goals...to have a horse respond entirely off my seat and legs. We'll see if that transfers to longer, faster trail rides and cross country gallops. :D

We now have so-so leg yields, pretty good turns on the forehand and are learning, step by step, turns on the haunches. Once the turn on the haunches tightens up as he gains the muscle and the understanding for it, we'll move to walk pirouettes. The rein backs are getting better. I really have to think about those because I've always ridden horses that required a bit of backward movement with the hands to get a reverse so I automatically pull backwards. I'm fighting that tendency in myself every single time! I don't want that in Gabe. He needs to respond just to the shift in my weight, a tap with my legs and unmoving hands. So far, he's getting it. Slowly. But getting it, and that's all that matters!

That's the summer in a nutshell!

And for your viewing pleasure, my 8-year-old daughter, Kayleigh, in her lesson this week: Cantering is the BOMB!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

I'm infected!

Are you infected?

Surgeon General’s warning:
Urgent Notice: Potential Danger of Horse Hair

This is a public service announcement.

The National Institute of Health has announced the discovery of a potentially dangerouse substance in the hair of horses. This substance, called "amobacter equuii" has been linked with the following symtoms in female humans:
reluctance to cook
reluctance to perform housework
reluctance to wear anything but boots
reluctance to work except in support of a horse
physical craving for contact with horses (may be an addiction)
Beware! If you come in contact with a female human infected by this substance, be prepared to talk about horses for hours on end.

Surgeon General's Warning: Horses are expensive, addictive, and may impair the ablility to use common sense.

Breaking my own rule

I really dislike it when things get so busy at work...the more I have to write at work, the less inspired I am to keep my blog updated. Writing all day long about the dregs of society can really suck the enthusiasm right out of ya.

I managed to get quite a bit of riding done during July. It was unseasonably cool here for nearly the entire month and absolutely PERFECT for riding!

Rode the Gabester last night and we had the best ride yet, despite being bombed by big, black horseflies the entire ride. Nasty things. And no amount of fly spray deters the buggers.

Last night was the second ride on Gabe where I broke one of my own big no-nos. I used a gadget. *gasp!* And it is helping with the head flinging habit Gabe has. This isn't just head tossing, this is head flinging. Nearly smack me in the face head flinging. He doesn' t just do it while riding, he does it in the pasture and while longeing. I don't know WHY he does it. His teeth have been checked, he's been checked for body soreness and there isn't a soreness/pain issue. I would blame the flinging on my saddle that doesn't fit him quite right if he did only under saddle, but he does it in the pasture too, completely untacked. He doesn't do it all the time and is most likely to do it during upward transitions or when things don't go quite his way. If Calypso or Chief gives him a dirty "get outta the way" look, he flings his head, grunts or squeals, and trots or canters out of the way. So I have a feeling it's not a physical issue, it's a mental thing and his way of dealing.

But, it had to stop before I got clocked hard with that enormous head of his. I tried working with him to get him to quit but it wasn't effective...he was pulling me out of the saddle (yes, there's that weak core issue popping up again!) and getting away with it because I was in no position to reprimand him properly and immediately.

So, I broke out the running martingale and adjusted it looser than normal...so it would only be employed if he really got to flinging that head hard. I only use a running martingale, never, ever a standing (which is basically the same thing as a tie-down for the western riding folks) because I feel they can make a horse feel trapped...and trapped horses panic. The last thing I wanted on my hands was a panicking 16.3hh Thoroughbred with a tied-down head whose first instinct is generally to go straight backwards in confusing/frightening situations and UP if he's really, really worried and the backing up doesn't get him out of the scary/confusing situation. Those factors could add up to a very bad situation very, very quickly. Not something I am keen on doing any time!

The first time he flung his head and hit that downward pressure from the running martingale he was surprised, to say the least! That head came right back to where it's supposed to be and I could almost see him thinking about and contemplating what just happened. And there was NO MORE head flinging for the rest of the ride. He thought about it a couple of times and reconsidered. Instead of flinging he just bobbed his head a bit and moved on. One thing I can say, that boy learns FAST!

Last night, I put it on again, still fairly loosely adjusted. One head fling at the beginning of the ride, he hit the martingale and he was DONE. I think two or three more rides in it and the issue will be resolved and the martingale can come off. I do not like relying on gadgets, but sometimes, if used properly, they can really help resolve a problem quickly and with the least amount of stress on BOTH horse and rider.

He is still the laziest TB I've EVER ridden. Ever. He's smart, and he does move forward when I really demand it, but his preferred gait is SLOW and easy. He's got a wonderful trot, but I really have to work at it to keep him trotting out and forward. When he's particularly lazy, he sucks back and gets behind the bit, trying to avoid any kind of work that might require him to *gasp!* engage his muscles and expend a few calories! So I have to be on top of constantly keeping him thinking and going forward with energy. It's rather exhausting! Riding Gabe for 30 minutes is nearly as tiring as an aerobics class. I'm hoping that as he gets more fit the laziness will subside a bit. The last thing I want to do is try to fox hunt a drag-butt horse. Not fun!

Anyway, hopefully things at work will slow down a bit soon as summer winds down. A lot of people take vacations during the summer months and those of us left in the office have to pick up the slack...which can make for some spectacularly busy days.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Figuring him out

I tried a new tact to conquer the spooky end of the arena last night.

Longing first! I tacked up and took that big booger to the arena and made him work on the longe line in the scary end of the arena. He did a little big of spooking and snorting and trying to bolt, but much less than he did the other night. I think I ended up longing him for about 15 minutes before he worked all the snort-n-scoots out and settled down enough to put his mind to work. We worked over trot cavalletti and a 12-inch log just to get his mind thinking about something other than the woods. We did spirals in and out, direction changes and pace changes on the longe and once I got his brain engaged and thinking about work and not boogeymen, he was good.

I don't want to have to longe him before I ride EVERY time, that would be horrible, but I will definitely do it from time to time. I may even longe him before riding for a week or so and taper off to every other ride, or every third ride, just to keep him on his toes.

I got up and we had a pretty good session. One half-hearted snort-n-scoot at the scary side, and that was it.

We worked on walk/trot, trot/walk/halt transitions. I hope, hope, hope I don't ruin his upward transition because it's pretty darn near exactly what it should be. He really lifts himself up into the trot, I can see and feel his entire front end lift up and launch into a really powerful, forward trot. Yes, he's still unbalanced and no, he's definitely NOT on the bit, but that all comes with time and muscling.

Downward transitions from trot to walk is eh. We dribble down and sometimes he fights it a bit, tossing his head and grumbling about it and falling on his forehand BIG TIME. But, step by step, right? Our transition from walk to halt is dead on. The transition from trot to walk is getting there. I do believe most of his resistance is my fault though. Because he does have such a HUGE, powerful trot I'm finding it physically difficult to give him the proper cue and slow him down with my body and abs while keeping my butt IN the saddle during the downward transition. More Pilates and weight lifting for me! I think that as I fix ME, he will find it easier to hear and understand me and will be able to respond better to that particular request.

His steering is still sticky but improving. At one point, while we were trotting and working on getting a downward transition on a circle, he decided he was going to toss his head a bit and throw a bit of tantrum while ignoring me...and he just about ran into a danged tree because he wasn't looking where he was going. And I just about let him just so he could knock some sense into his silly self. That tree came up FAST and he spotted it and decided to stop tossing and LISTEN to me instead of smacking his head into it. The beast!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Boogeymen

I really wish I knew what he sees when he stares into the deep, dark, unknown depths of the woods on the west side of our riding arena.

The way he acts you'd think he's spotted a pride of hungry lions or a family of boogeymen just waiting for him to get close enough so they can snatch him and turn him into dinner.

I spent Tuesday's ride on Gabe just getting him to go to and remain at that end of the arena. It was an evening of wide eyes, perked ears, loud blowing and snorting, and of course, my favorite, tucking the butt and bolting away from the ever-so-scary woods.

What a brat. Years ago I would have gotten frustrated and angry with him and probably gone to extremes to get him to get over it. Fortunately age and experience has taught me that's the LAST thing I want to do with a horse who has gotten it into his head that something is BAD BAD BAD! We did a lot of "do-overs." Bolt and run as we are walking away from the scary woods? Huh. DO OVER! Pop your shoulder and contort your body so you don't have to go to that end of the arena when requested? DO OVER! Bolt again as we are doing a circle near the scary end of the arena? DO OVER! Many deep breaths, do-overs and re-focuses later, we worked at the spooky end of the arena quietly without a bolt or evasion.

Then I got off and called it good. Always end on a good note, even if it's a very basic one, such as working near the woods.

And it only took half an hour! :P Through all this I have gotten very, very good at recognizing when he's gonna lose his everlovin' mind and bolt. I can really feel him tense up just a bit right before he thinks about it and if I recognize it for what it is in time, I low, loud NO!, a grumble or an ACK! from me refocuses him and pretty much prevents the bolt.

Some days, it feels like we are back at square one and he thinks he doesn't know a thing, especially the knowledge about going forward and turning. That is SO frustrating.

Other days, he's golden and he seems to anticipate my every request with effortless grace and forwardness. Those are the days I enjoy most.

Those other days? Those are the days I threaten him with a Frenchman's fork.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Trail Ride #2 and tantrums

Ooh, I've been such a blogging slacker lately. Summer and extra work at work and all that business keeps me busy enough that the blog sometimes has to take a back seat.

But, I do have a bit to update.

Took Gabe out on his second trail ride over the weekend. We were out for about half an hour, maybe 45 mins., and he was fabulous! The scariest encounter on the trail was the trees branches smacking against my hard hat. Scary stuff! Scoot and snort and look around for the scary thing. I started grabbing every branch I could reach and smacking it against my helmet, against him when I could and shaking the trees as much as I could. He was pretty darn desensitized to them within 10 minutes. Good boy! I'm sure I looked bizarre smacking myself in the head with tree branches, but hey, it worked and I achieved my goal.

You know how each horse has it's quirk? Calypso likes to get in one really fast head-in-the-air trot around the ring and acts a little ADD before she'll settle down and work. Chief drags butt for the first five or 10 minutes of a ride before he resigns himself to work and picks it up.

Gabe...well, Gabe acts like a spoiled brat. For about 10 minutes, sometimes 15, at the beginning of our ride he acts like he doesn't know a thing and he throws a little toddler tantrum. It's almost like he's saying "Make me!" He crow hops, refusing to go forward, tossing his head around and squealing (yes, he squeals, just like a girl!), forgetting how to turn, refusing to go to the woodsy end of the ring, etc. He can be a complete shit, with his ears forward the entire time like he's really enjoying himself. It's like he's testing his limits and feels the need to test me just to make sure I really AM going to make him work. Then it all stops, like a switch turns off, and he's golden.

What a nut. I don't let him get away with much, but so far I'm not really fighting his need to be a moron, let off some steam, behave like a baby, I work him through it, wedging my way in there and asking for more and more and keeping him too busy to act too silly for too long until his brain clicks. Some horses need to be longed to take the edge off before a ride, Gabe needs to test his limits and push my buttons. He's not trying to get me off and he's definitely not hurting, he's just being a big goof. I've come to expect no less from him! *grin*

He is definitely a fun horse and really enjoys playing. He's popped several balls (he kneels on them or bites 'em until they deflate, then he plays with the flat ball.) So, I found these balls designed for horse play and I think I'm going to save my pennies and get him one. If you click the link, make sure to watch some of the videos...those horses are having FUN! And I really think Gabe will too.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

If I'm going to live in a jungle-like atmosphere, I want the monkeys and the parrots in the trees

Mother Nature is relentless.

First the never ending gully washers that put my riding on hold because of the mud. Now, not only are we getting gully washers and frog chokers, we are also getting 87% humidity with 98-degree temperatures. It's hot enough to roast an elephant. How fun is that? If I WANTED to live in jungle-like conditions, I'd move to the jungle. My horses are hot and miserable, I am hot and miserable and these dangerous temperatures are doing nothing to move my Gabe training program forward. I won't ride when it's this hot, for his comfort and mine.

Instead, he (and the other two sweat machines) get evening showers and plenty of fly spray. They have finally decided that the woods aren't big scary horse-eating monsters and are (THANKFULLY!) spending a good portion of the hottest part of the day squirreled away in the cooler shade of the woods. For a couple of days those morons were standing out in the middle of the field just baking and sweating and obviously beyond miserable. Sometimes, the DO have brains! They do! They do!

I have kind of found a more effective fly repellent program that seems to be working. Somewhat. Well, better than before any way. I now have three bottles of different kinds of fly spray plus a can of OFF! I rotate the sprays in the mornings (a different brand/kind each morning) and in the evenings, their legs and necks get Deep Woods OFF! and it seems to work really, really well. At least, so far. I've also put out a couple of those Fly Jug fly traps in the hopes of capturing as many of the nasty biting flies as I can. The more in the trap, the fewer on my critters. Word of warning though...when the instructions say to pour the liquid fly bait into the jug while wearing a pair of gloves...heed that advice. I thought "me? Need gloves? Naw. I won't spill a drop." WRONG! My hands now smell like rotting flesh mixed with catfish bait and I can't get the stink off. Kind of makes eating anything at all a bit disgusting because it all smells like it's rotten.

But this not riding thing is frustrating. Very frustrating. I know the horses don't really care whether they are ridden or not, but dang it, I enjoy riding! I NEED to ride, but it's just too hot, and dangerous. If I had arena lights I'd be out there at 10:30 p.m., riding when it cools off enough to be tolerable.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Here a fly, there a fly...UGH!

We are having a serious fly problem this year. I mean, it's BAD. I've done a bit of research and it seems the combination of a really wet spring and a significant decrease in the local bat population may have something to do with the explosion of flies. I am very diligent about keeping all the animals' living quarters clean and the grass and weeds kept under control, but these flies are INSANE.

And I can't seem to find a fly spray that works for more than 20 minutes and with three horses, we go through a LOT of spray. We spray in the morning before the horses are turned out and they all get their fly masks. They get sprayed again when the come in at night and sprayed before we ride. Most of the time, the horses are stomping and swishing less than an hour after we spray them. Poor critters!

I've tried the homemade fly sprays in the past (the apple cider vinegar and the Skin So Soft version) and was even less impressed with them than the commercial versions. I've read some people put garlic in their horse's feed to help ward off the bugs and some even put vinegar in the feed or water to help make them taste "nasty" to the bugs. I know other's who use feed-through fly control and have success with it and the fly predators are touted to be quite efficient.

But I can't use the feed-through fly control or the fly predators because we have free-range chickens who like to make a tasty meal out of the horse manure and would snatch those fly predators right up and render them absolutely useless.

Does feeding the horses garlic actually work? Does anyone have a homemade fly spray they use that works for more than an hour and doesn't end up costing more than the commercial fly spray? I'm pretty open to all suggestions at this point!

My ponies are desperate for long-term relief from those horrible things. Especially poor Gabe, thin-skinned, sensitive Thoroughbred that he is. Poor guy really, really suffers when the spray is no longer effective.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A big, new world

Allow me a moment to CELEBRATE! Pump my fist in the air, do a little dance, YEE HAW!

Today I took Gabe out on his first foray into the wild, scary world out of the arena. Granted, it was with his nose on Calypso's tail and Chief in the lead making sure all the horse-eating monsters got him first, but out into the world we went.

He was fabulous. Relaxed but looking around and interested, walking with purpose, but not rushing. He was responsive and paying attention to me and didn't get excited, even when a bird flew out of the field right next to us and startled me. But not him!

We started with about 25 minutes working in the arena. He was okay, not on his best behavior and acting a little goofy, but not horrible, either. I always expect the occasional bad day, and today was his bad day in the arena.

Actually, I started the whole ride with a fight with him not wanting to go to the arena at all because getting there required him walking past the pigs. OH GOD! THE PIGS! The beast has walked past them before without issue, but this time, the piggies were being quite vocal. Terrifying little horse-devouring piglets they are. Squealing and carrying on like they were going to rip his legs right off and beat him with them. Eventually, he decided that if I was walking past them, they couldn't be to bad. We walked back and forth past them a few times until he relaxed and stopped giving them the terrified white-eye. Goof ball.

Then, in the arena, there was something in the woods he knew was waiting for him and refused to walk near that edge of the arena. Another little argument ensued and we did lots of backing up and circling. I had to spank him a couple of times with Mr. Whippy and he took exception to that and tried to buck me off into the dirt. The buck FELT huge, but Robert said his hind legs only came about a foot off the ground. Bad pony! Bucking does not help you get your way, it only makes me more determined! Eventually he went where I directed and I made him stand there before walking away and doing over again about four more times. He finally relaxed, sighed, licked his lips and quit being a butt about it.

We trotted a bit, circles, straight lines, figure eights. I have to keep our circles pretty big because he is so freaking unbalanced. That's one thing about a huge horse...they take a little longer to figure out where their feet and body go while carrying a rider and I really, really have to think about myself and my position on the turns. Which is good for both of us. Riding Calypso has gotten me into a bit of a bad habit of just being a passenger not a rider and partner. Gabe is kicking my butt and insisting I ride absolutely correctly. Have I mentioned he has a TO DIE FOR trot? Holy mackerel! Big, floating and smooth as silk. He really moves out and I know when I get that trot more under control and balanced and working, there's a good chance he's gonna toss me to the moon when it comes time to sit it. Guess I need to start working more Pilates into my workout routine and get my core ready to sit that thing.

Our "trail ride" consisted of walking down to the end of the driveway and back...which is just about a 1/2 mile total. Robert and Kayleigh wanted to take our woods trails, which are on our property and I keep them well-maintained, but I didn't want to push it too much. He took his first hill with a rider today, going from the arena up to the driveway and the woods trails have hills that are a bit steeper, and narrower. I don't need to push him quite yet, not when he's still as unbalanced as he is. Step by step. He was already being perfect for his first time out and I wanted to end on a perfect note. Next time, we'll add the woods trails to our trip. Yay! I'm SO excited! I cannot wait to get him road broke so we can go on longer rides. That will probably happen closer to fall, when the fields are harvested and we can ride on the edges of the fields instead of on the side of our little one lane road. Not that we get much traffic at all, hardly any actually, but, all things considered, I'd rather get him used to traffic along the road in the field, rather than on the side of the road where things can go bad quickly. We have to ride along the road to get down to the bottoms where all the good trails are.

Jump judging

Robert, Kayleigh and I spent the day Saturday out at Queeny Park in Manchester, Mo. jump judging the cross-country course for the QPEE Horse Trials. We were assigned to the water complex, always an entertaining series of jumps to judge because they involve water and a small pond with a variety of jumps in and out of the complex.

I love jump judging. It's a fun day, you meet tons of great horse people and you get to watch all levels of horse and rider pairs navigate the course.

There are four types of horse/rider combos that come through the water complex. I've noticed this at several events I've jump judged.

1. Water? What water?: This is the experienced pair. The horse has been through water more than a few times and the rider has no question about whether or not the horse will balk at the water. They hit that water at a gallop without a pause, trust not a question in either mind. They are a satisfying pair to watch because you know they are working very well together. They are probably reading each others' minds at this point.

2. Well....okay, if you say so!: This pair is usually an experienced rider on an inexperienced horse. The horse's ears and head come up at the sight of the water and the strides shorten as they approach. The horse is thinking: "Yes? No? Go? Stop?" But the rider feels the balk begin and gives the horse the confidence it needs to hit the water. The horse trusts the rider's command and surges forward into the wet obstacle, often leaping the first 10 feet of water and hitting the deep end with a splash. The horse lifts it's legs high as it goes through, trusting the rider but still a bit unsure about the footing.

3. Come on. Buck up. This easy.: The inexperienced rider on a packer. The horse sights the water, the ears come up. He has done this a few times and knows the drill. He is ready to go. Water is no problem for him. The rider tenses as the complex comes into view, sits up, sits back a bit, not trusting herself or the horse enough to hit the water running. The horse doesn't balk but tries to respond to the rider's conflicting signals: "Go! No wait, I'm nervous. Wait. Go!" He KNOWS what he's supposed to do but the rider is confusing him. They hit the water at a trot, not because the horse is worried, but because the rider is worried and the rider's worry transfers to her mount. Most of these riders go to the crop unnecessarily because they are worried. They get through, slowly, and you can almost always see the rider relax and heave a sigh of relief when the reach the other side and take off at a gallop again. You can almost sense the horse thinking: "Trust me, okay? I know what I'm doing."

4. OH MY GOD! NO! HORSE-EATING MONSTER AHEAD!: Ahh...green on green. The most entertaining of the group to watch. Many of these result in a refusal or an unintended dismount. We had two unintended dismounts at the complex Saturday. Not a bad percentage considering the number of green on green that came through. No one was hurt, thankfully. Horse and rider approach the water. Horse slows...slows...slows....STOPS! at the edge, and says "NO NO NO!" the rider says "Ummm...go?" The horse crabs back and forth at the edge, thinking, thinking, thinking, and the rider is still asking "GO?" There is very little trust between the two. The horse doesn't trust the rider won't put him into a dangerous situation...the rider doesn't trust the horse to get her through. Eventually, the horse puts a toe in, tests the water, then LEAPS into it and either walks through, weaving back and forth, not trusting, or trots through very, very fast to get out of the horse eating monster as quickly as possible. Worse case scenario the horse says "NO! puts on the brakes and the rider goes into the water alone. Green on green = black and blue.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Ribs? What ribs?

Calypso is fat and she keeps getting fatter. She's our one air fern and I can't seem to get her feed adjusted right! The mare is getting almost nothing in feed. She gets a large handful of oats and pelleted feed just to keep her busy while Chief is eating. She has put on mucho poundage since they have been out on pasture eating the lush grass they eat all day long! Her neck is getting cresty, you almost can't find her spine and there is definitely no feeling any ribs at all on her. She is definitely our one air fern. The other two look great.

Calypso just can't be fat. She has the typical tiny quarter horse feet on a really straight shoulder and upright pastern: Her fatness is laminitis waiting to happen.

I keep trying to convince Robert that he needs to ride her more and work some of the excess flesh off her, but it's looking more and more like her exercise program is going to fall to me. Which I really just don't have time for, between riding Gabe and keeping up on all the farm and garden work that needs to be done. He rides, but he is very much a weekend pleasure rider...and would really prefer just to have his horse fit and ready to go every time he rode. I guess I'm going to have to find time to git 'er done, even if it's just a 20 min. ride every other day in the beginning. I would put her on the longe line, but, in her current state of fatness, I'm afraid the confinement of circles on the longe would do her legs more harm than good. She needs lots of straight, easy lines to begin with until she's fitter and less fat. Ugh. I need to go from a full-time job to a part-time job just so I can get and keep these horses fit!

I'm considering a grazing muzzle for her just to see how that works out. Does any one have any experience with a grazing muzzle? Brand/style recommendations? How do you fit them? Any advice on how well they actually work and if they are worth the expense? I need her to eat less grass, but I also don't want to starve her to death or confine her away from the other two during the day.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

To treat or not to treat

I use treats to reward (and yes, I am not above bribery) my horses during training. Gabe's favorite treat are peppermints ( buy him sugar-free peppermints. No need to rot his teeth out!) When he first came to live with us he was quite rude about his treats: Pushy and demanding and had zero respect for my personal space. The other two are very polite about it because I refuse to have a rude horse. Period. Ever.

Gabe still comes running when he hears the peppermint wrapper crinkling, but he now respects my space and waits patiently for his treat. No pushiness, no crowding. He knows it's coming but he has learned that if he doesn't stand back and wait for me to offer, he doesn't get it. He also doesn't get it if he is nippy. He must take it gently and slowly from my hand, no teeth allowed. I had to do the same "rehabilitation" with him for feeding time. He came to us pushy and rude and even charged me from behind a few times while I was walking out to dump his grain in his feed tub. He learned quickly that if he didn't walk quietly beside me (no stealing bites from the bucket) or stand waiting patiently at his feed tub, I left and fed everyone else on the farm before he got his. The other two have also learned this and stand waiting at their feed tubs and won't put their heads in to eat until I empty my bucket and step away. Then, and only then, are they allowed to begin eating. I think this insistence of food politeness on my part has also translated to food politeness to each other. Chief and Calypso eat in the same paddock and there is never an issue of fighting over the feed. I have to feed Gabe separately because he's a super slow eater and would probably never be able to finish his meal if he was fed in the company of others. He likes to take a bite or two...walk around the paddock, come back to take another bite, walk around a little more. Eat some hay. Eat some more grain. Wander on over to the water tank for a sip and head back to the ground. He takes a good half an hour to finish about a pound and a half of pelleted feed and oats.

I know there are quite a few horse people who think treats are the devil and won't give their horses treats at any time, some won't give treats any where but in the feed tub. I guess I can kind of understand why some won't, especially if they have a rude horse, but I've never come across one that can't be rehabilitated to be "treat polite."

My horses appreciate a pat and a "good job!" when they've done something right, but the treat gives a little extra incentive, I think. And it makes me feel good about rewarding them with a little bit extra. I occasionally give treats from the saddle for a job extra well done and to encourage lateral flexion. Calypso especially benefits from the treat-inspired lateral flexions because she is so stiff through her neck and shoulder and quite hesitant to just bend her neck without moving her whole body.

Thoughts on treats? Does any one not give treats? Why or why not?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Forward...March!

Every day I fall a little more in love with my big gray goof ball. He is such a love bug and a clown and now that we have gotten over the "forward" hump he is picking up things at an amazing pace!

Last night was a beautiful ride. He volunteered a nice, strong, rhythmic forward walk and was halting square and immediately with just a tightening of my abs and a closing of my thighs. I'm not having to go to the reins at all for the halt and I've completely eliminated the vocal "whoa" for our halts.

Steering has become much smoother and easier and he's actually bending his body. He's apt to pop his right shoulder more than his left, but a tap with the dressage whip on his shoulder straightens him up. We have a reverse now, too. Only 4 to 6 steps, but he's willing and relaxed about it. We also now have a bit of a leg yield and turns on the forehand in both directions, so he's definitely become more sensitive to my legs. I don't like to linger on turns on the forehand for too long as it does put them on their forehand instead of the rear. I use it just to teach moving away from leg pressure (for circles, leg yield and side passes) and move on to turns on the haunches to keep him off his forehand as much as possible. Granted, it's only him moving a step or two away from the leg pressure, but it's a start. I need to put him back on the long reins and really concentrate on teaching him to move away from the pressure as quickly and confidently as he responds to the halt cues.

When I first started riding him he had a habit that worried me quite a bit. He was a MAJOR head tosser. Big time. Bad enough that he nearly clocked me in the face a few times when he got that head going. He did it when I asked him to do something and I was worried he'd be a chronic tosser, something that's very, very hard to "fix." Fortunately, as soon as he started figuring out what I was actually asking and our communication got better, the head tossing has stopped. He also ground his teeth like mad *grind grind grind grind* in the beginning. That too, has ceased. Completely. He still plays with the bit and is very mouthy (he is apt to suck a rein up into his mouth or grab the noseband in his teeth while I'm bridling him!) but no more grinding. I'm going to guess the head tossing and tooth grinding was his way of dealing with the stress of not understanding what I was asking of him. Now that he gets it, he's not so stressed. While both habits are irritating (and the head tossing dangerous!) I'll take those any day of the week over a horse who gets tense through the entire body, jigs, runs around like a giraffe or spooks in response to stress and a lack of understanding.

I am also very pleased that he is stretching and really reaching for contact with the bit. I can feel his back lift when he stretches down. I do, however, need longer reins! Holy cow that beast has a long neck! When he's really stretching and marching forward I'm left holding the buckle with my arms practically stretched straight. Short legs, short arms. *sigh* I am definitely NOT built like a lanky-legged, long-armed classical dressage rider. We are at a phase where I don't want to discourage the stretching and seeking contact, but this is ridiculous! I need about six more inches of rein to be comfortable.

Is this going as quickly as I expected? Naw. Am I disappointed? Nope. I am loving every step of the way...every bobble, every misunderstanding, every flash of brilliance or light bulb of understanding. It has been absolutely wonderful and I love seeing him learn and actually ENJOY his job!

Next weekend I'll be jump judging a local horse trial (two day event: dressage, cross country and jumping). I love jump judging and it is definitely an inspiration to keep on marching towards my goal of eventually being able to take Gabe to one of those events!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Yes, my owner is a little girl, got a problem with that?

Today we have flowers, not feathers.

I'm a GELDING...not a girl, why am I being forced to frolic in a flower necklace? Oh, the things I put up with from the girl child. It's a good thing she comes with treats and lots of good pats.

What? I can eat it? It's made from clover? Life is, indeed, good.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Lazy days

Gabe has a new nickname: Mr. Lazy Pants.

Lounging around in the pasture and filling up on grass and clover and alfalfa all day must be hard work because when they come in for their night meal, he's seriously draggin' butt. It could be the weather, too: Hot and HUMID. The humidity is such an energy sapper for every one.

But I really think his Highness is feeling a bit worn out by the work it takes to be at the bottom of a herd, and his insatiable need to be a pest. This is the third week I've been able to turn all three out together as a herd and Gabe can be a bit overreactive. If Calypso turns her butt towards him, just turns, no threatening or warning, he's running to the other side of the pasture. If Chief lays his ears back at him, just a warning to back off a bit, not going after him, he's running to the other side of the pasture, flinging his head around and throwing a few bucks and squeals in there for good measure. I can't tell if he does it because he really is worried about getting kicked or if he's just using it as an excuse to run. He does like to run...when he's not being Mr. Lazy Pants.

He always runs back to his starting point, almost like he's saying "Ha! Ha! You can't catch me!" And they can't. Even though he's a track failure, he's MUCH faster than the other two butterballs and escapes teeth and feet every time. He hasn't a single mark on him, they just can't catch up to lay a tooth or a hoof on him. He has some amazing sliding stops and spins for a TB, that's for sure! My pastures aren't liking those sliding stops so much.

But he's a brat. Seriously, he's a giant, pestering brat and I really can't say I blame the other two for not putting up with his crap and giving him the stink eye when he comes near. I watched them this weekend and Gabe would creep up on one of the other two, slowly grazing his way towards them, watchful and wary, acting like la-tee-da, nothing going on over here, don't look at me, I'm just eating. Then, when he got close enough and the other horse was ignoring him and contentedly munching away, he'd reach out, nip the other on the butt, spin and take off running and bucking like a mad man while the other one whirled to find him already gone. He did it several times. He's like the bratty kid down the road who rings your doorbell then runs away.

I know he just wants them to play with him, but they aren't having any of it. I almost feel kind of bad for him because he's so playful and the other two, well, they just aren't. Chief is a Grumpy Old Man, and Calypso, she's just fat and not terribly athletic. It's easier to bury her head in the grass that *gasp!* trot or canter! But, I imagine he's having fun just pestering them or he wouldn't keep doing it.

Either that, or he's one of those horses who belongs on the short bus and takes a LONG time to figure things out. I really hope he's just having some fun!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The lessons others teach

One thing I really love about my daughter riding and loving horses are the opportunities to teach her things like responsibility, compassion, empathy and hard work.

But I also get to teach her about good sportsmanship and understanding. She had an excellent time at the show this past weekend and really enjoys getting out there and putting her best boot forward. Yes, she did get frustrated with Trinity because she couldn't get her to trot. But she didn't blame Trinity for not wanting to trot, instead, she praised her for being good in all other aspects, asked her if she was hot and tired and wanted a bath and said she wished she had bigger, stronger legs. She does have pretty spindly little kid legs!

I've witnessed far too many kids (and adults!) quickly blame their horse for a bad ride when in reality, the horse is just being a horse. It's easier to blame something else for a mistake or a bad ride than to look inward and admit you did something wrong or not quite right. What is that quote? "There are no bad horses, only bad riders." That's something I absolutely believe to be true 99.9% of the time. Sometimes, there are bad horses, but usually because people somewhere down the line made them that way.

Anyway, back to the show. There is a girl about Kayleigh's age who rides at the barn. The kid has her own horse and rides regularly and is a pretty decent rider. But the girl has zero sportsmanship and plays the blame game with her horse all the time. The horse is a good plodder who safely packs her around. He tries to do what she asks but if he doesn't respond exactly how she thinks he should, he gets his mouth jerked on repeatedly or whipped and kicked and yelled at. Any other horse would dump her butt in the dirt (and it would be rightly deserved!) but he takes it and keeps going.

In one of her classes she did not place. We watched the class and she was being rough-handed and mean to him the entire class because he kept picking up the wrong lead. As soon as the placings were called and all riders left the arena, she got off him, jerked on his mouth, spanked him with her crop, flung her helmet across the barn aisle, flung her riding jacket onto the ground and stomped around saying what a stupid horse he was.

Kayleigh witnessed the entire thing and was frankly, quite shocked. I was shocked too, but even more so when the girl's mother did NOTHING to rein in and admonish her out-of-control, horrible child for being so awful. She just ignored her as she threw her little fit because she didn't place in the class.

Kayleigh asked me why she was acting like that when it wasn't the horse's fault and the ribbon really didn't matter. "Why is she being so mean to him?" she asked. I didn't have an answer, but my heart warmed when I realized that yes, I've been doing something right with this kid! We talked about the girl's unsportsmanlike behavior and why blaming the horse and being a brat about a ribbon is the absolute wrong thing to do. We talked about learning from the class and working on improving instead of having an uncalled for, childish fit.

She gets it. Thank goodness, she gets it. Because it's not about the ribbons, it's about the horses, learning and having fun. The ribbons are nice, but they aren't the be all, end all of riding.

Sure, Chief frustrates her sometimes, but I've never, ever seen her lose her temper with him. He's dumped her a couple of times (she has learned that he responds very well to just a light squeeze...a kick sends him flying forward and she falls off!) and each time, instead of getting mad at him, she apologizes to him, makes sure he's okay, and climbs back on. The two times he spooked hard and dumped her she didn't get mad, she caught him, comforted him, climbed back on and left it behind her as a lesson learned.

We are going to try to get Chief to the next show for her to ride. I don't know that's he's ever shown before so I don't really know how he'll respond to being in an arena full of other horses, but I know he will trot when she asks and she has been absolutely dying to show off the love of her life to all her riding friends. She's already braiding his mane and has even poked chicken and turkey feathers into his mane...he looks like a real Indian warhorse when he's all spiffed up in his feathers!

Now we just need to come up with a nifty show name for the old man! I'm eager to hear what she comes up with.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Show photos

Kayleigh at her second show this season, riding Trinity. She rode in two classes: Equitation for riders 8 and under and equitation for riders 12 and under. She placed third in the 8 and under class and 6th in the 12 and under class. She had a frustrating day with Trinity...Trinity DID NOT want to trot! But, she handled it well and didn't get angry at the horse, instead, she worked with what she had and did what those short little legs could do on that big ole fat paint.
Waiting for her first class...


Still waiting....notice she's managed to keep that white shirt clean? Amazing! A miracle!


Finally at the gate! See that smile!


Five kids in the class...full sized jumper arena, yet they ALL manage to bunch up within three minutes of entering the arena. How does that happen?


Riders, trot your horses! Come on Trinity, pick up yer feets!


And....walk. Trinity is REALLY good at walking.


A nice, cool bath to end a hot, dusty day of showing. Trinity was VERY appreciative!