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!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A little bit of help from my friend

Ahh...what a wonderful day. I got so much done, gave the kiddo a longe lesson and rode my beautiful beastie.

Today's ride was much less exhausting than yesterday's. Today, I brought my obnoxious purple dressage whip out to play. Mr. Whippy hasn't been out for awhile so he was eager to please and impart his magical powers upon my great gray beast.

Our walk was MUCH more energetic than yesterday's walk. Every time Gabe tried to dribble to a stop I tapped him with Mr. Whippy and got an immediate response and a nice surge forward of excellent energy. I love Mr. Whippy's magical touch! Gabe picked it up pretty quickly that if he slowed without me asking him to slow, he got tapped. Not smacked, not spanked, just a light tap tap. He didn't overreact at all and new exactly how to respond.

Today I tried an over-exaggerated version of Heinrich Schusdziarra's "spiral seat" and got fabulous results with our turns and circles. It was definitely a positive change from our drunken circles and crooked lines. The spiral seat, boiled down, is really using my seat bones, hips, waist, thighs, feet and weight to turn him with my body rather than my hands. I felt a little goofy at first because I really exaggerated it and it's supposed to be very, very subtle and not even noticeable. But, it worked, and I will continue to use it, but gradually tone it down until he's turning from my seat bones and thighs rather than hands each and every time.

I would love to be able to ride him five days a week, at least, and he would definitely benefit from more regular riding. But I am so much at the mercy of the weather and the work around the farm is always piling up. If I didn't have to start work at 6 a.m., you betcha I'd be out there riding in the morning before work! Oh, wouldn't it be nice to have an all-weather arena with lighting! One of these days I'll at least have a horse trailer (which is far more likely than an arena at this point in my life) and I'll just be able to trailer out to an indoor during the nastier months.

I'd like to take some dressage and jumping lessons on him too, again, it requires a horse trailer. Slowly but surely, yes?

My most immediate goal with Gabe is to be able to at least hilltop him at a fox hunt this fall. I don't know if I'll get that far in the next couple of months, but I'm working towards it. Next summer I'd like us to enter our first combined training event and maybe try some dressage shows. He definitely has the athleticism and natural ability to do all of the above, my job is to figure out how to bring it out of him and keep him happy in his job. And I need to get in gear and really get my butt in shape too! Eventing is strenuous, and right now, I've let myself become so lax that I don't think I'd make it through an entire cross country course without feeling like collapsing into a trembling pile of goo.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Walking is exhausting!

This silly horse is going to make me work for each and every stride. This is a whole new experience for me! I've always ridden horses who require quite a bit more whoa than go. The only horse I remember riding who didn't have much go (and required a tremendous amount of leg!) was a big Holsteiner named Wally. He was WORK and by the end of each ride I was completely exhausted.

Gabe wants me to ask for every stride. Left leg. Right leg. Left leg. Right leg, swinging and cueing each stride. My hips and seat bones very actively "walking" with each swing of his hind legs. As soon as I stop asking he kind of dribbles to a stop, which is frustrating for me. I've had instructors tell me I have a "hot seat," and tend to make hot horses hotter and slower horses much more active. I don't know why my "hot seat" isn't working for Gabe!

I need to teach him how to keep walking, at the pace I put him in, until I ask him to change. That is my next challenge. He's figured out the walk cue, now I need to keep him walking. Our turns are better, still kind of ugly and crooked. Our lines are NO where near straight, our circles resemble amoebas more than they do circles and his head is all over the place. He's unbalanced and he's not very confident in what I'm asking him to do. There is a "scary" part of our riding arena right next to the woods. It's deep, it's dark, you can't really see very far into it and there are squirrels and what not making ALL kinds of noise in there. He doesn't really like passing that part of the woods very much has really been hesitant about going near it, but, he's getting braver.

We're making progress, and that's all I ask.

I totally get why he was a complete failure on the track...he really doesn't want to have to expend any more energy than absolutely necessary and he'd rather follow another horse than lead. I can say though, although frustrating, it's a pleasant change of pace not to be on a horse than I'm half-halting every five strides.

He is also the kind of horse who is going to need to be ridden very regularly. He is not the kind that I can give a month off and expect to start right where we left off. Which I got very used to with Star. Chief and Calypso (Chief more than Calypso!) I can toss in a pasture for months and pop back on without having to do a few "remember this?" rides.

He is a challenge...but not in a bad way. I love figuring out how his brain works and trying to work with his brain and personality instead of forcing him to conform to the way I've always ridden and worked horses. It's good for me to have to think and ride outside my comfort zone.

Why I never seem to have enough time to ride

I have the rest of this week off from work. I seriously needed a mental health break, so I took it. There are only so many murders, fatal car wrecks and public suicides one can handle before it comes all too overwhelming for my emotions. Sometimes, I think I'm far too empathetic to stay in this business and keep my sanity intact!

So, I made a list of things I'd like to get done this week. Okay, they are things that NEED to be done! I'm always pretty optimistic about how much I can do, but looking at my list I suddenly realized why 1. I never have enough time to really ride and 2. When I do have enough time to ride, I'm utterly exhausted!

Here's my far...and in no particular order:
1. Clean/organize the mail/bill counter (We ALL know how messy that area can become!)
2. Clean the chick nursery coop
3. Finish painting family and hang curtains/pictures
4. Paint bedroom
5. Clean Gabe's run-in and add more footing
6. Weed flower beds and strawberry bed
7. Plant grapes and build grape arbor
8. Plant blueberries
9. Trim tree branches along west fenceline
10. Trim sucker limbs/branches on trees around pond
11. Fill musk rat holes around pond/dam. Find someone who will come out and trap them.
12. Hang gate on new pasture
13. Mow field
14. Mow riding arena
15. Mow/weed eat around pool
16. Uncover pool/clean
17. Clean Kayleigh's room and steam the carpet
18. Till compost into garden and plant rest of veggies
19. RIDE!!!
20. Turn compost piles/build new compost bin
21. Put more rock on grooming area
22. Buy paint for Gabe's run-in...paint it
23. Buy concrete for new hitching rail, install new hitching rail post
24. Clean goat pen/replace bedding
25. Clean chick brooder
26. Do laundry
27. Clean/oil all tack
28. Wash/repair winter blankets. Bag and store.
29. Pull/trim all manes.
30. Fill potholes in driveway

And Kayleigh has a horse show this weekend so I also need to make sure her show gear is clean and give her a couple of lessons between now and Saturday.

No freakin' wonder I'm always exhausted! However, most of this stuff, once it's done, it's done and I don't have to do it again. Whew.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Green, green everywhere

It always amazes me how very busy life becomes when the days get longer and the plants spring to life. I've already mowed our pastures TWICE and two need another mowing this weekend. The grasses are up to the horse's bellies and going to seed, so they need to be knocked back down. I like the keep the grasses between 8 inches and 10 inches high, any taller than that and they start going woody and losing nutritional value. Plus, regular mowing keeps any weeds in check and gives the grasses and legumes a leg up to overcome and overtake any pesky weeds. Pasture maintenance is such a labor-intensive venture! The horses are definitely happy in their green paradise.

Last weekend I got a wild hair and decided to try putting all three out to pasture together again. Last year it was a disaster. Chief tried to run Gabe through the fences and just kept after him All. Day. Long. He was overly aggressive and the risk of injury far outweighed my desire to have a happy little herd of three instead of separating them.

I put Gabe out to the pasture first, then turned Calypso out with him. The two usually go out together so I knew there wouldn't be an issue. Once those two got their bucks out I turned Chief out with them. He trotted up to Gabe and Gabe up to him, necks arched, tails held high. The sniffed noses and Chief squealed and struck out with a front leg. Then the two changed position and inspected each other's boy bits, squealed a bit more, sniffed noses again and dropped their heads to graze. That's IT. No running, no kicking, no biting, nothing. I guess Chief really just needed a year of getting used to Gabe over the fence before he was okay with welcoming him into his little herd of two.

Gabe is definitely on the bottom of the totem pole, where he belongs. He is very, very responsive to pinned ears and swishing tails and sometimes looks a bit dejected as Chief and Calypso graze side-by-side while he follows them at a safe distance. I think that will change after awhile, they all just need a chance to get used to the new herd dynamics. Gabe really, really wants to play though, he's such a baby still. He often goes running around the pasture, tail high, snorting like a crazy horse, and swings in to make playful bucks and nips towards Chief and Calypso, inviting them to play. They tolerate him, but haven't ventured to participate in his little games yet.

Not much riding lately. The tilling and planting and mowing and repairing has kept me obscenely busy. Not to mention my husband has been working TONS of overtime, meaning he doesn't get home until the sun is setting, and I won't ride Gabe without another adult home, just in case something happens. I'd hate for something bad to happen to me with just Kayleigh home! I so hate having to depend on someone else's schedule to get my riding time in. Hate. It.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

My poor baby!

Leave it to the Thoroughbred. If it can go wrong, it will with them.

My poor Gabester had a reaction to his rabies shot. The injection site swelled up pretty nicely and he was very painful to the touch. In fact, he wouldn't let me touch it and didn't want to bend his neck in that direction. He was "not himself."

When I looked out the dining room window and saw him standing out there, head down, I knew immediately he wasn't feeling good. You know how you can just tell when they don't feel 100%? Poor guy was lethargic and looked depressed. I mentioned to Robert that he looked depressed and he kind of chuckled at me a bit, like I was being overprotective of my big guy.

He was eating just fine, and drinking, but not wanting to do much more than that. Usually he's much more animated. So, I called my extra special vet, who also happens to be my mom, and got some advice. I've never, ever had a horse react to a vaccination, so I wasn't really sure what to do to help him feel better, or even if I should be panicking about it.

She advised that abscesses can be a concern at injection sites. Hot compresses on the swelling and banamine to take the edge off was the over-the-phone prescription. Checking his temp was also on the list of to-dos. So, out I went with the thermometer to put him through that particular indignity. 100.2, perfectly normal. My wonderful husband applied the hot compress while I squished banamine into him and took the temperature. Gabe seemed to like the attention and really seemed to get some relief from the compresses.

By morning he was definitely feeling better. His neck was still sore, but the "funk" he was in had lifted. He was more like his usual silly, animated self at feeding time. By the evening, the swelling was gone, still a little sore, and he let me know he was DEFINITELY feeling better when he kicked up his his, lifted his tail high and went squealing around the pasture when I turned him out onto the grass. Yay!

I hate it when they feel like crap, especially when it's because of something I did ie: Give him the rabies vaccine. I know rabies itself is FAR worse than the reaction he had to the shot, but I still feel bad. I've read some info that some horse people are declining to vaccinate their horses against rabies and some other disease, but I don't think I'd take it that far. The diseases they are vaccinated against are far worse than the vaccinations. I do wonder, though, if we tend to over-vaccinate a bit. Are all those shots really necessary every year? I only get a tetanus shot every five years or so and haven't had any other vaccinations since college. Couldn't our horses get their shots every other year and still be protected? Especially those that are in pretty much a closed herd like mine are. If I was actively showing or mingling among other horses more frequently, there would be no question at all about vaccination, they'd get 'em every year. Period.

Something to think about, and ask questions about.

Friday, May 1, 2009

One teefs, two teefs

The ponies had their annual check-up and dental work done today. Everybody looks good! I do my own vaccinations, but the vet has to administer the rabies shot, so today Gabe, Chief and Calypso got rabies shots, blood drawn for Coggins and a visit with the tooth file.

Aside from some sharp teeth and a couple of hooks, everyone's mouth looked good. Gabe had his canines clipped and filed and his teeth were sharper than the other two, as I suspected. Chief, surprisingly for such an old dude (25!) had a really good mouth. He had one hook and three sharp points. That's it. He didn't even have any tartar buildup on his clipped canines.

Of all three, Gabe was the worst brat. Surprise, surprise. He had to have three sedation shots (0.5 cc Dormosedan and 1 cc Xylazine) before he was drowsy enough to cooperate with having his teeth done. What a snot. He wasn't even really that drowsy after all that, not even wobbly! He wasn't even out enough for me to be able to clean his boy bits very well and I wasn't going to ask for another hit just so I could clean the weenie. I did what I could but he was really threatening me and trying to hit me with that back hoof. I didn't feel a bean on him so I'm not going to worry about it too much.

Chief and Calypso were both wonderful and Chief was the drowsiest. He let all his boy bits hang right on out there for the world to see and I gave him a good cleaning. Poor old guy had a HUGE bean that I was able to pop right out. He should be a bit more comfortable with that nasty thing gone.

I just realized I'm blogging about washing horse penises/sheaths like it's no stranger than clipping dog toenails. Wow. Us horse folks are a strange lot I tell ya. Strange!

I talked to the vet a bit about Gabe's habit of grinding his teeth in some situations. He seems to do it when he's the most stressed or just really thinking hard ie. When I'm asking him to do something new/hard or when the farrier is out. He also does it when I brush him a bit too hard with the curry. She found nothing odd in his mouth that might be contributing to the grinding except for the sharp points. He does have a bit of cap left near his incisors but she believes it will fall out without help. She said if it's there in couple of months to call her and she'll come back out to check it again and possibly pull it if needed. For the moment, she is inclined to leave it as is. We talked about the grinding for awhile and she suggested he might have ulcers that act up when he's feeling stressed, which makes sense. I've never seen him grinding while he's just out in the pasture doing nothing, he only does it when I ask him to work or if he's tolerating something he doesn't really like. He is in good weight, eats well and doesn't crib, so if he DOES have ulcers that can't be terribly bad.

I opted not to have him scoped for ulcers right now because the teeth grinding is the only sign pointing to the possibility. I'm going to wait and see if the floating helps, and really pay attention to when he does it. We may also have to consider changing up the living arrangements if it's a stress thing causing him to grind. Right now he's by himself because Chief is quite aggressive towards him, not a normal "I'm the boss" aggressive but really, really aggressive, an "I'll KILL you!" aggressive. He's aggressive enough that I think he'd run Gabe through the fence or kick him hard enough to really hurt him. He actively goes after him, even when Gabe is WAY on the other side of the pasture minding his own beeswax, Chief charges him and chases, chases, chases Gabe although Gave is obviously trying to be the bottom horse and move out of his way.

Chief and Calypso share a paddock, but we might put Calypso in with Gabe and see how that goes. Chief doesn't really give a crap if he's alone or not, but it might make a difference for Gabe. OR, it could end up being a really bad idea and I wind up with a horse I can't take out alone because he's so attached to Calypso. See the conundrum? I keep trying to convince Robert that Gabe needs a little donkey, pony or sedate old retiree as a pasture buddy, but so far, he's not buying it!

Still too muddy to right..and it's cold and spitting rain. Ick. Come on, what the heck happened to spring! I guess I'll get the family room painted instead. I'm tired of looking at the half-finished walls!