Thursday, March 26, 2009

Who's the boss? I'm the boss!

It figures, just when I'm all prepared to go just have a nice standing session with Gabe (ha!), it rains like mad. There is mud and puddles EVERYWHERE! It's gorgeous out, sunny, a bit chilly, and very muddy.

What I wouldn't give for a nice, all-weather outdoor arena. I don't even need an indoor, I'll ride in just about any weather, but I won't ride in the slimy, slippery, deep mud we get around here. *Sigh* There is so much I want to get done on my farm, not enough in the farm funds to get 'em done any time soon.

The ponies got their feetsies done Saturday. Calypso has shoes again, she is the only one who gets shoes at the moment and she is SO much happier walking on iron than she is barefoot. I'd keep her shod all the time if I didn't think she'd slip and fall on the ice during the winter.

Gabe was apparently a complete ass for the farrier. I was absolutely mortified when I found out how bad he had been. Mortified. Kind of like when your kids do or say really bad things and you are MORTIFIED that you raised them! Same with Gabe.

Saturday was a busy day: the farrier was scheduled and the hay shed needed replenishing. My appointment with the hay guy overlapped the appointment with the farrier. Of course, when I asked hubby what he wanted to do, he chose to stay home and hold horses for the farrier. I got to go pick up hay. Yay me! Every time he has stayed home to hold horses for the farrier Gabe is a jerk for him. The last time he held him Gabe bit him and bit him hard enough to leave marks. This time, he wouldn't stand still and behaved like an unbroke baby.

Every time I hold Gabe for the farrier he behaves very nicely and stands still, but I expect him to and I absolutely require him to. My husband, bless his heart, knows just enough about horse handling to handle the well-broke ones with ease. The ones that like to test you, like Gabe, he is at a loss about how to make them behave. I don't know if he's afraid to make him behave or just doesn't know HOW to make him behave. I guess that's something I need to work on with Robert and probably with Gabe, too. He should be able to handle Gabe without any issues at all because he really isn't that difficult....if you know what you're doing.

Gabe likes to test you and if you don't pass his tests, he keeps pushing and getting brattier and brattier. He's one of those, who, if in a boarding situation, would develop a reputation for being a bad horse. Not necessarily because he's bad or entirely mannerless, but because he tests and pushes the limits if you don't push back and remind him who's in control. Usually all he needs is one good smack on the shoulder, a sharp, loud "NO!" or a quick trip walking backwards across the pasture on the end of the halter. He is always contrite after punishment and straightens the heck up.

I am the "boss mare," he respects me because I take NO crap from him. None. He's not even allowed to look at me funny and he is definitely not allowed to get mouthy or be wiggly. At all. Ever. He knows I'll "bite and kick" if he gets out of line. (I don't literally bite or kick him, you know what I mean!)

Robert is merely a play toy to the big guy because he has figured out that Robert won't push back and make him behave like he should. *sigh*

On the bright side: My pastures are a gorgeous emerald green. The rain has really pushed everything into overdrive on the growth front. Yay!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

We have the stop and stand perfected!

It's official. Gabe is a butt head. And he's a rotten, stubborn brat. I tried to ride last night and spent the first 15 minutes dealing with his temper tantrum. His tantrums consist of...are you ready for it? Really ready? Alrighty, prepare to be shocked! He throws a tantrum by standing still and refusing to move in ANY direction. I think he's part ass.

He is a conundrum to me in this aspect. I have never, ever had or ridden a horse who had forward motion issues. Typically I have to figure out how to throttle them down several notches, not throw the whole thing wide open and hope for at step forward! Grrr. The silver lining is, when it comes down to it, I'd really rather him be stuck on stop than stuck on gallop madly around with broken brakes.

I took a crop with me and tried the typical move forward NOW method...squeeze, nudge, kick, SMACK! He ignored the squeeze. He ignored the nudge. He ignored the kick. He squealed and tossed his head and came up off his front a bit with the smack. Hmmm...not good. He's just unbalanced enough at this point that going UP would most likely mean we'd go OVER. And that's not a place I want to be, ever.

So, we argued (at a stand still!) for about 15 minutes. He did agree to make little circles, but putting one foot in front of the other wasn't on his menu of options. Finally, one little movement forward and I praised him like mad. Then another. More praise. What a good boy! It seemed to click but I was still having to really work for each stride. Five more minutes and he was striding along nicely but still kind of uncertain about what I was asking. And then we'd stop and he'd refuse to go forward again for awhile until suddenly, the squeeze clicked and forward he went.

Very frustrating.

I checked my saddle fit and it actually fits him better than any of my other horses. When I have the vet out to pull Coggins on all of 'em and do shots and teeth, I'm going to have the once over done on him just to make sure there isn't any joint or body soreness that is making him reluctant to go forward.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

My horsey life

50 Fun Questions
1. How old were you when you first started riding? Before kindergarten.

2. First horse ridden: My mom's horse Dusty. I don't really know that sitting on him with her counts as "riding," but he's the first I was on.

3. First horse trotted on: Probably Sonny.

4. First horse cantered on: Blaze. Definitely. I don't know that that pony did much BUT canter!

5. First horse fallen off of: Blaze. Many, many times.

6. Most recent horse fallen off of: Calypso, two weeks ago. Who knew she could teleport sideways while spinning to run the other way from a relaxed walk?

7. Most terrifying fall: The one off Blaze when I broke my arm. I never imagined that Army guys popping out of the top of a tank could be so scary to a pony!

8. First horse jumped with: Blaze.

9. First horse who ran away with you: Blaze. (I'm sensing a trend here!)

10. First horse that scared the crap out of you: The mustang I broke for a friend. He was a true prey animal and reacted much differently than domestic horses to things. I think he would have taken my head off more than once if I wasn't fast enough to get out of his way.

11. First horse shown: Blaze, I think. I might have ridden Sonny in a walk/trot class, but I don't recall.

12. First horse to win a class with: Blaze. We beat out all the experienced riders on well-broke horses in an advanced trail class. We were the BOMB!

13. Do you/have you taken lessons: Yes, and I'll keep taking them for as long as I can get on a horse.

14. First horse you ever rode bareback: Blaze. We didn't have a saddle for her right away so I spent most of my time bareback. Even after my mom picked up a kid's western saddle, I still chose bareback over saddle.

15. First horse trail ridden with: Blaze.

16. Current Barn Name: Well, my farm's name is Bramblewood Acres. Since my horses are at home, I guess that's my barn name, too!

17. Do you ride English or Western: Both.

18. First horse to place at a show with: Blaze

19. Ever been to horse camp: Nope. I've helped run a horse camp, but was never a participant.

20. Ever been to a riding clinic: Yup, both as an auditor and a participant. I love clinics.

21. Ridden sidesaddle: Nope. No desire to, either.

22. First horse leased: Never leased, always owned. Well, I did a part-board lease on a TB named Royal Conclusion. I part-boarded him for a summer.

23. Last horse leased: Royal Conclusion.

24. Highest ribbon in a show: Grand Champion in a halter class.

25. Ever been to an “A” rated show?: Yes

26. Ever competed in pony games/relay races: Yes.

27. Ever fallen off at a show: Yes.

28. Do you ride Hunters/Jumpers: Yes. But I've gravitated away from hunters towards jumpers and eventers. They have more fun.

29. Have you ever barrel raced: Yup!

30. Have you ever done pole bending: Yup!

31. Favorite gait: Galloping!

32. Ever cantered bareback: Many, many times.

33. Have you ever done dressage: Yes. I love dressage. The most incredible experience I ever had was on a schoolmaster named Early Morning. Holy mackerel. That's the dressage I strive for.

34. Have you ever evented: Yes. Very low level. Like, green bean level.

35. Have you ever mucked a stall: A billion and one times.

36. Ever been bucked off: Bucked off? Nope. Spooked off? Yup.

37. Ever been on a horse that reared: Yes. I made my mom SO angry when I taught her hunter, Mike, how to rear on command. I was young and dumb.

38. Horses or ponies: Thoroughbreds!

39. Do you wear a helmet: I have been lately, especially when I ride Gabe. I grew up only having to wear a helmet at shows, but I've gotten better. My daughter reminds me to put it on every time I ride now...and when you have kids to stay alive and kicking for, you tend to be a bit safer.

40. What’s the highest you’ve jumped: 3'6"

41. Have you ever ridden at night: Oh yes! Midnight trail rides under a full moon are amazing!

42. Do you watch horsey television shows: Yes, RFD-Tv shows and that new series "Jockeys."

43. Have you ever been seriously hurt/injured from a fall: Yes. A few times.

44. Most falls in one lesson: I've never fallen off during a lesson.

45. Do you ride in an arena/ring: Kind of. I have a flat pasture area we ride in, but its grass, not sand, and it's not enclosed. But I have the corners and sides marked with cones.

46. Have you ever been trampled by a horse: No. Stomped on, kicked, bit, dragged and bloodied, but never trampled.

47. Have you ever been bitten: Oh yes. One horse I worked around, Sam, went out of his way to bite. You couldn't enter his stall without a crop in hand.

48. Ever had your foot stepped on by a horse: I've had my toes bloodied and broken by horse hooves. My favorite was the jumper, Smoke and Mirrors, who used to aim for my foot when he had the studs in his shoes. FUN!

49. Favorite riding moment: There are so many. My most recent favorite moment was trail riding in the Sierras with my mom, daughter and sister. Oh, what wonderful memories!

50. Most fun horse you’ve ridden: Definitely Star. She was such a character and could be quite flaky, but she always gave her all when It's too early to tell, but I think Gabe may turn out to be pretty danged fun, too.

The fascinating pile 'o poo

Spring is just around the corner and we are definitely enjoying the better weather around here. Warm and sunny most days. We had rain last night but we needed it. The pastures are greening up beautifully and it is SO hard for me not to turn the horses out on it already! I like to wait until the grass is a few inches long before I start gradually turning them out full time. Last year I didn't turn them out on the grass until after I mowed them all at least once. I don't know if I'll wait that long this year.

I've ridden Gabe four times since my first ride and he just keeps getting better. We are still steering wide, but the stop is definitely there. My last ride we had a bit of a forward issue: He didn't want to go forward. Robert was riding Calypso with us in Gabe's paddock (it's about arena sized) and Gabe was doing beautifully: Circling, stopping, walking, changing speed within the walk and reaching for the bit. He is very, very mouthy with the bit. He likes to suck it up and chew, chew, chew and play with it so we get plenty of foam on the lips. I know in a dressage competition his mouthiness would be counted against him, but I'm not going to put him in a flash or a drop. If he wants to play, I don't care, as long as he listens and doesn't try to grab it and ignore me. I think some horses are just naturally mouthy, and he is definitely one of them. He is the most oral horse I've ever been around, much like a toddler who has to shove everything into his mouth or at least give it a taste. He even tries to pull parts of the bridle into his mouth when I tack him up. He normally reaching around and nibbles at my sleeve or arm or shirt while I'm grooming. He's not trying to bite out of malice, he just seems to need to have something in his mouth. An odd beast he is.

Anyway, we were riding with Calypso and she pooped. Shocking, I know! Gabe was suddenly mesmerized by her pile of poop and refused to move away from it. I wouldn't let him sniff it and trust me, he was trying! I tried to make him walk away from it and he decided backing up was his best option because he did not want to leave that pile of poo, dammit! So we backed and we backed and we backed. I kept his head turned to the side as he was backing and as soon as he'd make even the slightest forward or turning movement, I released his head. He figured it out pretty quickly. There is no good (or safe) way to force a horse to go forward if they are determined to go backwards, the option of going up is definitely increased in that situation. I could have kicked the crap out of him and forced him to go forward, but all I would have managed to do is get in a battle of wills with him, and I'm not going to win. He is much larger than me and will win any "strength" battle. My philosophy is to make it uncomfortable to do the wrong thing and very easy to do what I am asking. Backing up with your head pulled around to the side is not comfortable or easy...taking a step forward and having your head released is much easier! Thankfully he fairly quickly chose the easy path.

The funny thing is, as soon as I untacked and turned him back out into his paddock, he trotted over to that pile of poop and gave it a good long sniff then wandered away like it wasn't a thing. I told you, he's bizarre!

Today is beautiful and I'm sitting in the office with ants in my pants. I just want to get home and RIDE!!!!

P.S. I still have a job! We all were forced to take a pay cut so now I'm earning what I earned in 2005, but at least I still have a job. And for that I am thankful. It could have been much, much worse.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Riders, line up facing away from the judge

Kayleigh's first show! She was only in two classes, both walk/trot equitation. She rode Trinity, a school horse. Trinity was having an off day and didn't want to trot, but Kayleigh hung in there and got that crabby ole mare to trot. At one point in her life Trinity was an A-circuit children's hunter. She apparently did very well until she sustained a stifle injury and is no longer able to jump. She lugs the little ones around the arena with a tremendous amount of patience on most days, but other days, oooh...she can be CRABBY!

Kayleigh placed third in both classes.

Come on Trinity, TROT!

The kid has pretty good posture for an 8-year-old.

We need to work on heels down. She's quite confident up there!

Lining up for the judges. She was all grins and business.

She was a bit nervous about riding in front of so many people. Her biggest worry before the show was that the judge was going to give her an "F."

Very proud of herself. She did extremely well.

As soon as we got home she hung those ribbons and her number up on her bedroom wall. She's already planning her next horse show. Jackets were waived for this show because it is the first of the season and a schooling show. I guess if she wants to keep showing (and I still have a job come Monday!) I'll have to find a nice, used children's jacket for the show season.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

In which I giggle like a school girl

You know how sometimes it's the little things that make everything come together beautifully? I've been working Gabe on the ground, attacking every little thing I could think of before I climbed into the saddle. I wanted to be sure everything was solid and in place before I got on.

Some people would say I spent too much time on the ground with him and I would kind of have to agree. I wanted to be on him months ago, but winter and mud got in the way. I don't have an indoor or an all-weather arena so when it's muddy, it's MUDDY and I didn't want to risk injury to either of us in the deep, slick mud in case things did not go smoothly.

Gabe has learned well, he's a quick learner and really seems to look forward to whatever I can throw at him. I've yet to find something that will spook, startle or bother that beast.

Today it all came together and I climbed aboard. I was nervous, yes, my heart was pounding and my hands sweating just a bit. Every OTTB I've been on has this tendency to take off as soon as you put a foot in the iron and I was prepared for him to do the same. You just never know how they will react. He stood like a rock and waited as I settled into the saddle, all while talking to him and patting him. Robert, my dear husband, helped me out by standing at his head with a lead rope in hand, just in case all the "whoa!" work we did on the ground didn't transfer to the saddle.

It did. Beautifully.

OMG. All I have to say is WOW! Years ago I rode a Hannoverian dressage schoolmaster and I learned a lot from him. He was trained up to grand prix and had the most powerful, incredible stride I've ever sat. He was not an easy ride and I ended my lessons on him with burning abs and chafed thighs because he just required so much work to sit.

I can honestly say Gabe comes pretty darn close to that power, and that's just not a proud owner talking. He strides big, he strides powerful. He walks with purpose but not anxiety. I felt like I had endless power in the engine and all I had to do was ask for it.

And now I'm asking myself "Why the heck did I wait so long? Holy cow!" But, I'm glad I did. He knows voice commands, he understands the pressure of my legs and turns fairly easily. Is it perfect? Naw, but he's not confused by what I'm asking, and that's what's important.

I did cheat a little bit. Kayleigh and I took Chief and Calypso out for a ride before I got on Gabe. I knew Gabe would run around and buck like a nut while we were gone. I wanted him to take some of the edge off, just in case. And he did. He wasn't exhausted, but he was mellow. But I tell you what...getting off Calypso and getting on Gabe was a whole like going from Ford Escort to Ferrari. Seriously. What a world of difference!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Oooh, the sun! The warmth! Howdy, spring!

Oh my, I'm loving this weather! Finally, something I can work in. Although it was incredibly windy (wind advisories and all) Thursday, I still opted to work Gabe. He has to be able to work and listen under all circumstances, right? He was wonderful. Sure, he was a looky-loo at everything and really listening to the trees creak and groan in the wind, but he was also listening to me.

I worked him on the long reins, lots of direction and pace changes, around cones, backing up, a little bit of side passing. We had foam on the lips and lots of good slobber and chewing the bit softly. He was really, really listening and using himself. This horse is going to be pretty talented at dressage, I think, as long as I can keep that movement pure and not screw it up by getting in his way. And he's brave, very brave, so I think I finally found my eventer! Yay!

Kayleigh has a lesson tonight and I'm hoping they will ride outside. It's about 70 out already and beautiful and I know she's about sick and tired of riding in that teeny tiny indoor at the barn. It's not nearly as windy today as it was yesterday. Her first show is next weekend and she is already giddy about it. I only registered her for two classes, walk/trot equitation classes because she's not quite ready for cantering in a group! Every day she can ride she's been out riding and really pushing herself on the equitation thing. She'll ride a school horse instead of Chief at this show. With her only riding in two classes I decided it would just be easier to stick her on a school horse instead of hauling Chief to the barn and futzing with all that. I don't know if he's ever been in an arena with more than one horse at a time and I really don't want to find out he can't handle it at her first show! How disappointing that would be for her. So, we'll stick with a nice, safe, seasoned schoolie this time. The barn she rides at is holding several shows this season, all reasonably priced, and depending on the first show and how much she likes it we may be showing at least once, maybe twice, a month this year.

I'd really like to show Gabe and take some lessons on him at an eventer/jumper barn about 45 min. away from us, but that requires a horse trailer. And I don't have one, yet. Damned economy. I could probably finance one, but my job is kind of questionable at the moment and I just won't put my family in debt when things are uncertain. Maybe next year. I do have a friend who has offered the use of her trailer, I may take her up on that from time to time this season. We'll see.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

New tack

Finally I bought Gabe a new bridle! I've been using a bridle I cobbled together from pieces parts in my tack trunk and not only did it look funny (black noseband with white piping paired with a havana browband with decorative stitching and cheek pieces in a really light brown. Oh, so attractive!) but it didn't fit very well. This boy has a BIG head! He has a 17" browband measurement but all I could find was a 16" browband. It fits, but it's a tad snug. I'm hoping it stretches a bit with oiling and use.

Everything else fits nicely and it looks fabulous on him. It's a dark chocolate brown, raised noseband and browband with decorative stitching. I really, really didn't want the raised leather or the decorative stitching but the only bridle my local tack shop carried that was flat and plain in dark leather was a Passier that cost $270. I'm not quite ready to drop that kind of money on a bridle! Maybe once we start showing and winning or I win the lottery, but until then, I'll have to be happy with raised tack. Ugh. I just want a nice, flat, wide bridle. Why is it so hard to find simple, plain tack?

A couple of weeks ago I bought a new bit for him because none of mine fit him. All of my bits are 5" mouths...he has a 6" mouth. Yes, I measured it three times, he's just big! Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a bit with a 6" mouth that isn't a draft horse driving bit? Holy moley. I found a full cheek snaffle with a 6" mouth and 5.5" cheeks. So I got the keepers, fitted the bit and the keepers onto the cobbled together bridle and stuck it on him. Oh. My. He absolutely HATED that bit. HATED. I'm guessing he really disliked the poll pressure produced by the long cheeks and the keepers. He reacted rather violently and was kind of scary. I pulled that bit off FAST! There goes $30 on nothing. Did you know you can't return bits? *sigh*

So, back to the drawing board. I finally found a 5 3/4" mouth eggbutt snaffle. Not exactly what I wanted...I was looking for a 6" D-ring with a copper mouth. No luck. So, I brought the eggbutt home, stuck it on his new bridle and gave it a go last night.

He loved it. He chewed and chewed and chewed that bit, reached his head down, responded softly and beautifully to the pressure. Very pleased, I am. Forward progress continues.

My next big purchase will be a new saddle for him. My current Collegiate Eventer doesn't fit as well as I'd like. Because he has such a high, wide wither I need a saddle with "wither panels" to fill in that space. And I'd like one that's a bit wider. But that's a ways down the road, I think. I can't afford to spend $1,000+ on a saddle right now, but I'm saving my nickels towards one!

All the beasts are shedding like mad, Gabe most of all. I think I was wearing just as much of his hair as he was after our grooming session! Only 13 more days til spring! YAY!!!! And the time change is this weekend, meaning there will be MORE daylight at the end of the day again. Double YAY!