Friday, December 3, 2010

Winter blahs

Oh, here we go again, the delightful period when all I can manage to write about is:
1. The early dark
2. The unending mud and
3. My inability to ride often because of 1 and 2.

Frustration sets in quickly and I begin to question more often, wondering if I really am a crazy person for wanting to keep my horses at home where I have no indoor arena and am constantly at the mercy of the weather.

Then, the ground freezes during the weekend, the sun comes out, the horses aren't plastered with mud and I can ride in the brisk, bright sun on a snorting, prancing, full-of-vim-and-vigor horse.

And life is good again.

Until the ground thaws, the horses take mud baths and I'm slogging through muck in the cold dark while cursing the winter solstice, frozen fingers and mud-caked boots.

But the hay shed is full, the horses are fuzzy and the tank heaters working. I'll get through another miserable winter, endlessly craving those seemingly scarce days when I can ride, finding contentment in simply burying my face in the warm, fuzzy neck of Gabe while he slobbers through his warm evening meal, dribbling some of it down my neck or across my back as he returns my affection with sticky, wet horse kisses.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Fast and slow

It can be interesting riding two horses who are polar opposites.

Gabe is big, long-legged and graceful, but he's slow and tends to be a bit on the lazy side. He'd rather amble along than put forth any more effort than is absolutely required and there are rides when I have to push, push, push until I'm ready to fall off from exhaustion.

Calypso is short, compact and built like a bulldozer. But she's a much more forward mover and is willing to go go go until she falls over from exhaustion.

Calypso is in some ways a more difficult ride than Gabe. Not because she's a bad mare, but because I spend a good portion of the ride reminding her to SLOW DOWN and fighting with her desire to go faster, faster, faster. She has head-in-the-air-itis and gets quick, rushy and on her forehand fast. It doesn't help that she's already built with an upright shoulder, upright pasterns and is naturally built downhill. I totally understand why she gets rushy and why she tends to travel with her nose brushing the sky but I don't like it. Not one bit. It makes for a horrible ride and is not any good at all on her back and joints.

If I can get that issue solved with her she'll be pretty darn near ideal for anyone who wants to ride her.

It's an on and off thing with her, too. Some days she drops her neck and goes slow without much reminding. Those are the best rides on her and fortunately they are becoming much more frequent than they once were. Making progress, slowly but surely.

Last night's ride, not such a great ride. Head in the air, rush rush rush, quick mincing little steps, a jackhammer bareback ride in which I spent the entire time asking her to JUST SLOW DOWN DAMMIT. Yay. I'm SORE this morning.

It's during those rides that she responds when she feels like it and will just as soon keep blowing through the aids than listen to them. I can give her a series of half halts and she may respond to one of them. Her halt is good. Sit on your pockets, hold your abs tight, stop all body movement and quit following with your hands. It's even better if you combine the aids with a low "whoa." And, she stops.

But I can't get her to connect the halt aids to half halts and SLOW THE FREAK DOWN requests. She'll give five or six good, easy strides, then is back to head in the air rushing.

There are days when I'm sorely tempted to put a curb or a Kimberwicke on her just to get her attention, then go back to the D-ring snaffle she's in now. I don't know what to do. I'm not at all a big proponent of bitting harsher just because you can't properly train a horse to slow the heck down. I'm a firm believer that all good, well-trained horses should be able to go well in a snaffle...curbs are for fine-tuning and advanced movements, not for making better brakes. But there are days when I completely understand why rushy, fast horses are put into harsher and harsher bits and I really question why I haven't with her.

I think I'm going to put her in the side-reins and spend some time longeing her in them to try to help her figure it out without having to worry about a rider up there. We'll see what happens.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Riding out alone

In my last post I asked for some ideas about how to safely ride alone. One of my biggest fears is finding myself out in the middle of nowhere, dumped and hurt and unable to move with my horse galloping all over kingdom come getting into who knows what and most likely finding some obscure way to injure or maim himself.

Who would know to come looking for me? No one. I'd freeze to death out there in the fields and coyotes would eat me because no one would even know where to start looking. That would suck.

I have ridden alone for as long as I can remember and really enjoy the relaxation of solitary riding, but there was always someone home, or someone at the barn, to start to worry if I didn't come back after a few hours...or if my horse came home without me.

We all know riding is a dangerous sport. When you take a powerful, 1,000 pound prey animal with a brain of it's own and an instinct to run from threats, anything can happen. Horse people with years of experience and knowledge have been maimed, killed or seriously injured by their horses. Not necessarily because the horse was dangerous or they were doing something stupid, but because sometimes, bad things happens.

I'm not as worried about taking Chief or Calypso out alone, but Gabe does worry me. He's still a big, powerful, sometimes nutty, green Thoroughbred baby. He can be unpredictable at times, and yes, there have been moments when his unpredictability has put me on edge more than a little bit.

Now, there is no one at home to know I'm gone, no one to glance at a clock and wonder why I'm not back, six hours after I left. No one to look out to the arena to make sure the horse is still between me and the ground.

I got quite a few good ideas in the comments, then a few more from my mom, who spent several months traveling the country, just her, her horse and dog. She traveled and rode alone every day and learned a few things along the way. By the way, I wanna be just like my mom when I grow up! I admire the guts it takes to just load the horse up and go, no time limit, no firm destination, just travel and enjoy.

1. Let someone know you're going riding and approximately when to expect to hear from you. Then make sure you call them or text them when you get back safely. No point in making someone worry unnecessarily. And you'll feel better knowing SOMEONE knows you're out and about. I know I do.

2. If you're going on a trail ride, leave a map at the barn or on your kitchen table marking the approximate location of where you plan to go and the trails you plan to take, just in case someone needs to go looking for you. That way they'll know where to start instead of standing around wondering which direction you felt inspired to take that day.

3. Carry a cell phone on your person. It's not doing you any good at all attached to your saddle, which is on your horse who is halfway back to the barn by now.

4. Always wear your helmet!

5. Kacy at All Horse Stuff recommended some kind of identification on your horse (name, phone number, address, barn location, etc.) so your wayward/runaway beast can make it home. Another suggested a simple dog tag on the bridle with the horse's name, your name and phone number engraved. I never thought of making sure my horse was ID'd, but it's a darn good idea and one I will do.

6. If you carry an all-purpose tool on your trail rides, carry it on your person, just like your cell phone. Because sometimes, in some situations, you just can't get to the saddle and need the tool RIGHT NOW!

7. Wear fairly brightly colored clothing. You will be much easier to find if you can be seen lying on the ground, in a ditch or in tall weeds/grass.

8. Always be prepared for anything. One of the riding habits I've been trying to instill in my daughter is to always be aware of what's going on around you. She's apt to just go along for the ride and not really pay attention to what's going on in the surroundings. She'll drop the reins and pay attention to everything BUT her horse as she's turning this way and that in the saddle to talk to me or get a better look at something we just passed.

I have been able to avert or prevent many a spook by noticing or spotting something well before my horse does and being ready just in case. If I know it's there, and I know there is a possibility he MIGHT take exception to it, I'm less likely to end up in the dirt. Now, I'm not saying stare at it and get tense and give him a reason to spook, just be aware of it so you can be prepared for it.

Happy, safe trails!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sans saddle

I rode the little bay mare last night.

Bareback.

It has been quite some time since I've ridden bareback, at least since before Star died six years ago. When I was a kid all I ever did was ride bareback. Everywhere, every time. It was too much of a bother and a hassle to haul out the saddle and tack up and when I first got my pony, Blaze, I didn't have a saddle anyway so bareback was the only option. I remember when I felt more secure riding bareback than I ever did riding in the saddle. I'd like to find that feeling again.

During our half hour ride it quickly became painfully obvious that I really need to ride bareback more often because I've developed a nasty habit of depending on my stirrups way too much. Oh, I know, I can ditch the stirrups in the saddle but then I grip with my knees, an equally sinful habit.

Calypso has a pony trot. She's a whole lot like riding a pogo-stick without shocks... a tooth-rattler, that's for sure. I figured out pretty quickly that I HAVE to keep my hips loose, my knees relaxed and my abs engaged if I wanted to sit that trot bareback AT ALL. It's tougher work than you imagine, keeping things loose and relaxed and trying to stay with her stride without banging around on her back.

While I learned that I've been depending too much on my stirrups and not keeping my hips loose (which I knew but didn't realize how much I was holding), I also realized that I don't depend on my hands for balance at all, a very good thing in light of the other two nasty habits I have to break.

Today, I hurt. My hip joints ache and my abs are SORE. My inner thighs kinda feel a little bit like Jell-O. I think I'll keep riding that mare bareback for awhile. I'm not quite ready to get on Gabe bareback, not yet. But I'm looking forward to it as soon as I feel ready to give it a go!

Which brings me to another subject: Riding safely...alone. I've recently become a single mom living on the farm without any other adults around. So, I'm riding by myself. Well, I almost always ride by myself, but, there is no longer anyone inside the house aware that I'm out riding.

And I worry a bit. What if I get dumped and get hurt and no one realizes it for days? I always wear my helmet, but helmets don't prevent broken necks or broken backs or smashed faces.

How do those of you who ride alone (ie: no one at home to know you're heading out) frequently handle the safety issue? Do you call someone and say "Hey! I'm going riding. I'm planning to head out in X direction. If you don't hear from me in X amount of time, call someone cause I may be dead/hurt/maimed/lost?"

What do you do?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Black Bird Rustling

Let's add "black bird," to the list of Terrible Things That Eat Horses, Especially Ones Named Gabriel.

Uh huh. That's right. A black bird sent the big man into a tizzy last night. Make that several tizzies. No. I'm not kidding. Yes, I've seen the darn things perched on him out at pasture and had to flick dried evidence of their horseback perch from his hair.

We started out just fine. He was a little up, but just enjoying himself and having some fun.

Then we rode past a black bird that was making a racket rustling around in the crunchy leaves right next to the arena. His ears popped up, his neck arched and he did his signature duck and spin to head the other direction as quickly as possible.

Dork.

The bird remained. I don't know what was in that pile of dried leaves that had it's rapt attention, but the dang thing poked around in the pile during the entire 45 minute ride and made quite a bit of noise.

When we passed the bird doing it's thing, Gabe did his...duck, grunt and spin. After the second duck and spin he got spanked and I spun him back towards the Black Bird of Imminent Doom and Destruction.

We. Will. Pass. The. Bird. Without you acting like a moron I told him in my stern I'm-not-going-to-put-up-with-this-crap-today mommy voice.

After about the 6th pass and subsequent duck, grunt and spin, I spanked him and spun him to face that bird.

It's a BIRD, STUPID! A BIRD!

He trembled. I could feel that energy building in him like steam in a tea kettle on the verge of blowing full bore.

This wasn't fear, this was ENERGY and he was simply doing something with it. Yes, what he chose to do with it was inappropriate, but I had failed to give him any other way to release that energy. I had become so focused on making him walk nicely past the noisy bird that I failed to pay attention to his growing need, his increasing desperation to just GO FORWARD.

I forgot the number one Thoroughbred rule: When things get sticky, just GO FORWARD. Give them something to do with that energy before you lose their brains entirely.

I was quickly closing in on losing his brain entirely.

Forget the damn bird, it's trivial, I told myself, just go forward.

And forward we went. I bumped him up into a trot and he gave me the world on a platter. He presented a huge, ground eating, back swinging, throw me out of the saddle trot. Holy mackerel.

Past that bird (which was still doing it's thing in the leaves. Rustle...rustle...rustle) without a single ear twitch...forward forward forward using up that energy in a positive way. Not rushing, just working...energy cycling spectacularly from pushing hindquarters, through me and my arms and to the bit where he graciously took it, raised his poll, lifted his withers, lifted his belly and gave me something he's never given me before....he went on the bit! Granted, it was only for a half dozen strides or so, but he gave it and I took it with graciously and with immense pleasure.

The feeling...indescribable. There was no force, there was no holding or pushing or pulling or fighting...it was energy in it's purest form, the two of us in harmony.

For a few strides, I rode Nirvana. It's that place we all seek with our horses and from time to time, we find it, however fleeting the moment may be, we constantly strive to find it again and make it longer, more frequent. Beautiful.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The ears flick, the horse thinks

I walked up to the pasture gate and as soon as Gabe saw me he cantered towards me, bucking and flinging his big body around like a well-trained and agile athlete. I didn't whistle or call to get his attention, he was just there, like that. He got a carrot as a reward (and maybe a bribe) and I slipped his halter over his head. He continued to bop around on the end of the lead rope like a silly, playful yearling.

"Uh oh," I thought, just knowing that this was going to be one of those rodeo rides and I might just end up butt in the dirt. I was prepared for a wild ride should he decide to throw a few of his typical "I'm gonna be a nut job today" antics into the mix. I've been working out and lifting weights, losing weight and feeling stronger and more flexible every day.

I was confident I could ride just about anything he threw at me, confident but cautious. I know the power this horse has and if he decides he wants me off...I'm coming off. End of story.

I started with a 10 minute longe session, just to get the kinks, bucks and wild head tosses out.

He was perfect. Spiraled in and out at the trot beautifully. Walked, trotted and halted on command without me having to resort to getting on his case about obedience.

Hmmm...interesting. I hadn't ridden for about two weeks, so this was atypical behavior for him. Usually, when I let more than a couple of days go by without riding he's a handful. Not bad, just....spirited and full of himself. A horse in love with just being.

I settled into the saddle and sighed deeply. I have made it a habit of sighing deeply when I get on and doing it frequently during our rides - it relaxes me and relaxes him. It's just a good practice and reminds me to stay relaxed and supple.

He waited for the cue to walk on. On a typical mount up I have to remind him at least once to stand still until I give him the go ahead. I squeezed, he responded and moved forward, reaching for the bit, immediately relaxed and swinging in his back, ears flicking forward and then back to me, forward, then back, paying attention, waiting to answer the questions.

The wind was blowing and leaves falling from the trees. A couple of trees creaked in the breeze and a squirrel gave us an earful from his lofty perch.

And the ears kept flicking back to me "What now mom? What's next? Okay, gotcha! Let's do this!"

Not one hop, buck, jump, head toss, faux spook or girly squeal.

I sat amazed at my boy. Amazed and proud and loving every single bit of him.

He was stiff to the left, which is unusual for him. He's usually stiff to the right. He was a lazy and behind my leg, but a few tap tap taps of the whip and he picked it up. Shallow serpentines to work on the bending, circles down the long sides, figure-8s, gait changes, halt to trot, rein back to trot, trot to halt, slight extensions and collections at the walk and trot and some leg yielding.

None of it was perfect, but he was really, really trying to please and do what was asked of him and in my book, that's more than good enough. That's all I ever ask and I never expect more than he can give.

Although he was stiff to the left, we were getting lots of saliva and foam ONLY on the right side of his mouth. I'm not quite sure what that means. Am I holding on the left and following on the right? Obviously, there is something going on there that is encouraging an unevenness in him, and most likely it's me. I will figure it out.

And the ears kept flicking back and forth, back and forth.

I grinned like a fool, proud of my beautiful and wonderful Thoroughbred, loving this horse even more with each and every step he takes.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The longest months

There is no denying it.

The frost has been on the pumpkins, the trees are dropping their leaves in great colorful drifts, there has been a thin skin of ice on the water tanks in the morning and the horses are getting fuzzier by the minute.

Winter is just around the corner.

The cold, the ice, the mud...oh. The mud. In this part of the world we hover right between being in The North and being considered Southern. Some winters are bitter cold and the ground freezes solid and we get real snow. Other winters are more southern in nature - we don't get real snow, we get ice storms - and nothing ever really stays frozen for long so we are left with lots of thick, sticky nasty mud, the bane of every horse owner every where. Mud sucks. Literally. It sucks off shoes, it sucks off boots, it pulls tendons and wrenches ankles. There is nothing that sucks the energy out of me faster than having to slog through mud. I can't even tell you the number of times I've walked right out of my muck boots and planted my poor socked foot deep into cold, nasty mud.

I spend every season battling mud. Gravel disappears into the quagmire of nastiness. I'm pretty sure the gravel breeds mud, no matter how much I put down there is always more mud. It's incorrigible.

Aside from spending the other seasons prepping for the mud in an attempt to stave it off in the winter, I've been preparing for winter in other ways too.

My hay shed is FULL of beautiful sweet-smelling hay. There is something very comforting about a full hay shed going into the winter. That is one thing on the list of things I won't have to worry about for a few months.

Blankets have been found, examined and repaired. I still need to get them to the laundromat for a good washing. The horses don't wear them often, I prefer their natural coats, but when we get a good ice storm with lots of wind I blanket 'em up. You can have a cold horse...you can have a wet horse, but you should never have a cold, wet horse. Those who have horses living on pasture know: Even if they have a place to escape the weather (ie cozy run-in sheds bedded with nice, fresh straw) they rarely use them when they are supposed to. Silly beasts!

The water tank heaters have been found and examined for wear and tear and tested to make sure they still work. Calcium deposits from the winter before have been scrubbed off.

Fences have been examined and tightened and repaired where needed. Pastures at rest for the winter closed off, sprayed for weeds, limed, the clumps of poo spread and mowed one last time. I missed the fall deadline for overseeding for this area, so that will be done as soon as possible in the spring. There are only a few areas that need it this time, thankfully.

Although it's not quite cold enough yet, the hose still needs to come inside at some point. Filling tanks with a frozen hose is not only frustrating, but often impossible and frequently ends with a burst hose.

It's also time to give all my brushes their seasonal scrubbing and disinfecting. I do this once every season. It gives me the chance to really examine my brushes, replace the worn ones and keep things nice and clean. You can't get a dirty horse clean with a filthy brush!

I found the Thrush Buster, the heavy duty mud brushes and the scratches remedy. Again, the mud. My bane.

Calypso likes to break out in rain rot every winter, so I've dug out the ointment/scrub for that, too. This year I'm going to do my damndest to try to prevent her from "rotting." We'll see what happens.

My tack needs a good scrubbing and conditioning. The cold, dry weather wreaks havoc on good leather.

While many people don't consider it, I also stock up on electrolytes for winter use. I have discovered it can be a challenge to find electrolytes during the winter at the feed store, so I stock up at the end of summer. The horses tend to drink less during the winter, and, combined with the cold, less desire to move around and increased dry roughage (hay), it's a recipe for colic. I feed electrolytes daily in the horse's warm beet pulp mash to encourage winter water consumption. It seems to work. The tanks don't empty quite as fast as they do in the summer, but the water level lowers steadily and gives me peace of mind knowing they're getting enough in their tummies to keep things moving right along properly.

And finally, now that I've found and fixed the horse's outerwear, it's time to find mine! Gloves, coats, hats, scarves, etc. Oh, and thick socks...must have thick socks for riding. I can stand cold noses. I can tolerate cold fingers, but when I dismount after a chilly ride, the last thing I want is to feel like I've shattered my feet when I hit the ground! So, warm socks top the list.

I still need to replace the handles on my wheelbarrow. They snapped this summer and need repaired. Can't clean run-ins without a wheelbarrow! I've been using the yard cart on my mower to keep them clean until now, but when it's muddy, that mower ain't going through it without a fight!

Are you ready for winter?

Friday, October 29, 2010

My little helper...

Not!

Accomplishing farm tasks, in the pasture, is pretty darn near impossible with Gabe sticking his nose up in my business the entire time.

But I don't mind so much, not really. Even as much as I complain and call him all kinds of names during his nosiness, I kind of like that he chooses to be with me when I'm in the pasture and not the other horses.

He's not TOO pushy. Definitely not rude or scary. Just....curious, as all good horses should be.

Hmm...what have we here? A bucket of stuff? What's the stuff? Can I eat it?

What do you mean there are no peppermints here? Really? You're kidding right?

Oooh...this is yummy! Yes, the brute left teeth marks on the drill. He's like a baby...everything goes in his mouth at some point. I have to be extra diligent about keeping noxious/poisonous weeds out of the pastures because the dang fool has been witnessed EATING THEM!

Have hammer, will travel! He has been known to clock me in the head with the hammer...and has hit himself with it once or twice. I don't know what his deal is, but once he has it in his teeth he like to swing it around.

I did manage to get the gate up...took probably twice as long as it should have and it hangs a bit crooked...but it's up nonetheless! Thanks for your help, big guy!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mmm....farrier! Tastes like peppermint

My farrier has been out for about three months with a broken arm. Not just any old broken arm either. He got nailed by an exploding fuel cell to a nail gun while he was burning a pile of construction trash. It not only broke his arm, it tore his arm open to the bone and did some nerve damage. Ewwww!!!

So, my ponies have been farrier-less all summer. Surprisingly though, their feet looked pretty darn good considered. They all "self-trimmed" and when he was finally able to get out and get them done Monday, he really didn't have to do much but trim back a flare and run a rasp over them. Nothing major at all. I blame it on the pastures and the fact that I don't keep them stalled.

Gabe loves the farrier.
Seriously.
Well, he loves to try to chew on him any way. Nom nom nom! I spend the entire trim keeping Gabe's lips and teeth off Don's hat, chaps, shirt and butt. He is one mouthy little turd, that's for sure.

I have decided that I need to find someone who will teach me basic farrier skills. I don't want to learn to shoe (mine go barefoot any way) or learn how to do any kind of major foot work. I just want to learn how to maintain those hooves between trims so maybe I can stretch out the time between trims a bit and be knowledgeable enough to be able to care for those feet when things happen that prevent the farrier from coming out on a regular schedule.

I did buy a rasp to have on hand, just in case, but so far I've been a little hesitant to apply rasp to hoof. My luck I'd rasp it all the way down to a nub.

So, that's my next goal (a non-riding goal!) learn how to do minor maintenance on my horse's hooves.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Just ride

This morning I got up before the sun to ride the mare before I had to go to work.

Early morning has always been my favorite time to ride...the world feels so new and fresh and full of promise. The horses are peppy and eager to go. When I was younger (high school age) I remember getting up early during the summer to get on my mare just as the sun was beginning to peek over the horizon. I loved, and still love, that quiet alone time, that softness of the world before it rubs the sleep from its eyes.

But as I was riding this morning I realized something was vastly different from when I rode in the morning as a teenager.

My reasons for riding had changed. I wasn't on Calypso purely for the joy of riding, exploring and being with her.

I was on her with a purpose: Get X done then work on Y.

And I started thinking (I know, scary stuff!). When was the last time I got on to ride just for the pure pleasure of riding? Nothing more, nothing less. When I get on now it's with some sort of training goal in mind: I'm going to accomplish this today with Gabe, or that today with Calypso.

And I ride until I achieve the goal and get off, content that I had achieved that goal, happy that I had ridden. I still get pleasure from riding but it's different than it was.

Have my reasons for riding changed over the years? I don't really think so. I get an indescribable joy, comfort and contentment when I ride. I relax and let the world go as soon as my foot hits the stirrup and all the tension and stress of my day melt away when my butt hits the saddle.

But the purpose has changed in ways I've never really considered. I get on to work my horse, get to that next level of training, accomplish a goal.

When I was 13, 14, 15 I got on with no real goal in mind...I just got on to ride and off I went. I didn't have any desire or need to work on perfecting a circle or fine-tuning a halt. We had stop, go and turn perfected and I saw no need to ever require anything more than that.

I just rode, over hills, across fields, out into no-man's land where it was just me, the horse and the Kansas prairie. I was content with just being one with my horse for however long we happened to be out. We'd trot, gallop, mosey along, pop over ditches and logs, gallop up an down hills, forge new paths, wade through creeks and sometimes get lost. I didn't worry about my hips being loose or my heels down...as long as I stayed on (because I typically rode bareback every where) there was nothing else to think about.

My little quarter horse mare, Sundancer, became the most broke, responsive, willing beast I have ever sat upon. Why? Because we went out and DID everything. I didn't get stuck on some goal about training her to trot better or getting her on the bit properly, we went out, we rode, we tackled tough terrain and just had fun. And the entire time, by doing nothing more than enjoying the ride, I was training her to be exactly the kind of horse I wanted without realizing I was doing it.

What changed over the years? How did I go from a rider who rode purely for the joy of being with her horse, to a rider who got into the saddle a specific goal in mind?

I can't even trail ride any more without throwing some kind of training goal into the mix...work on laterals, fine-tune the halt, get a really good walk.

What happened to JUST RIDING? I have no lofty expectations or goals of ever doing a lot of showing. Sure, I'd like to show again, it's fun. But I don't NEED to show.

I just want to ride. I love to ride, but somehow, somewhere along the way I have forgotten WHY I ride.

I need to rediscover that pure, simple joy that is horses.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Look to yourself first

If I'm having training issues with my horse I always look at myself first.

One of my favorite horse books is "There are no problem horses, only problem riders," by Mary Twelveponies. That statement sums up almost every training and behavioral issue faced by riders and owners. Horses are just horses and will behave like horses when left alone. Riders and trainers create the bad behaviors/habits because every time we are with them, in any capacity, we are training them, both good and bad.

As I've written previously I've been having some "energy" issues with Gabe. He just can't get his hind end powered and moving like it should be. I've nicknamed him Mr. Lazy Pants, because that's what he feels like quite often.

I thought it might have been the hot weather sapping his energy, but, now that we've had a few weeks of cooler weather and chilly nights, he's still not got much up and go.

So, I looked to myself. What could I be doing in the saddle that might be preventing or inhibiting him from really moving forward with good energy?

I took stock of my position...closed my eyes at the walk and really felt every part of my body, how each joint was responding to his movement. Toes relaxed and not clenched, ankles relaxed and acting like shock absorbers, knees loosed, relaxed and not pinching, hips....whoa! Wait a minute here. What the heck is going on with those hip joints? Holy cow. Locked up good and tight and not moving with him AT ALL.

I found my issue, the one that is creating HIS issue. Once you lock those hip joints you're telling your horse to slow, slow, slow and blocking any kind of relaxed forward movement.

Basically, I was riding the brakes without even realizing I was doing it. I do a lot of yoga and relaxation visualization so, keeping my eyes closed, I thought about my hip joints being loose, elastic, supple and following and I felt them loosen. As they loosened I felt myself sink deeper and more solidly into the saddle. I'd been riding in a perched and "protective" position. I know I adopted that position when I first started riding him because he was so reactive and prone to moments of silliness.

As they loosened I felt him relax and start taking bigger, more energetic strides. I "walked" my seatbones bigger and faster, really working on keeping those hips relaxed and following, not blocking those hind legs from stepping forward and under me. And he responded in like by taking bigger, quicker and more energetic strides. When he's really striding out and using himself properly, his walk is AMAZING. When I bought him, I definitely bought the walk!

I had to think about it or those pesky, tight hip joints would start tightening up as soon as I wasn't thinking about it. I know it will take some time to "re-condition" those joints, but it can definitely be done. I'll be adding hip-loosening stretches to my stretching and yoga routine from now on.

I could have just strapped on the spurs or energetically employed the whip to get him up and moving forward, but I KNEW he had the energy and I knew somehow I had to be doing something to prevent him from using himself fully and properly.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Helpful hooves and busy lips

Gabe is an incredibly helpful guy. If he had thumbs, he'd be right up in the thick of things, getting it done.

Oh. Wait. He already is.

He likes to be right. there. with you, either resting his chin on your back or trying to operate the tools himself.

See how helpful he is, trying to assist Kayleigh in her poisonous weed digging efforts?

Hey, little human, gimme that shovel! I'll show you how it's done! He did try to snatch that shovel from her a few times and try as she might, she couldn't even bodily shove him away.

He's always been a helpful ham. When the run-ins were under construction, he'd casually wander over and steal tools...drills, hammers, a box of screws, whatever he could get his teeth on and take off with. As irritating as it can be, it sure makes hard work a little lighter.

The last big job of getting the fence done involved hand-digging a three foot deep hole to sink and concrete in a 6"x8' post to hang the gate from. I loaded up my little utility wagon with all the supplies: Post hole digger, shovel, concrete, post, level, measuring tape and a 5-gallon bucket of water to set the concrete.

Of course, my big man was over there right up in my business, making a gigantic mess of my neat pile of dirt by digging around in it. He kept trying to steal the post hole digger from me and snatched the level at least once.

Then, that great big snot drank my entire bucket of water. He stood there as I was laboring and sweating and swearing at the hole I was digging and that sneaky, sneaky turd drank all my water! Last thing I wanted to do was trek all the way back to the house to fetch more, but, of course I did. I swore I was going to make HIM do it and called him all sorts of lovely names while giving him neck scritches.

Gate posts must be as straight as possible or the gates hang funny and don't swing right. So, I dropped that post into the hole, dumped a little dry concrete in there to hold it in place a bit better and broke out my level to get that sucker as straight as possible.

And Gabe, once again, had to help. Level against the post I'd shift it ever so slightly one way or the other, intently watching to make sure that magic bubble lined up precisely. I'd get it juuuussttt right and here comes his big nose to shove the post where he sees it more fit to be.

Grrr...what should have taken a 1/2 hour to complete took over an hour because of his oh-so helpful nature.

Don't get me wrong, I love the big guy to pieces, but he seriously makes a simple job so much more complicated! If I'd loved him any less he would have been dodging the dirt clods aimed at his nosy rump rather than seeking scratches and resting his head on my shoulder where he'd sigh deeply and try to sneak the tools out of my hands.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Farm work....it never ends (but I love it!)

How did you spend your weekend?

My plan was to ride both Gabe and Calypso each Saturday and Sunday. But, best laid plans...blah blah blah.

Neither got ridden but I am still sore and exhausted.

Instead, I spent the weekend putting up fence around the last big pasture. It hasn't been mowed since mid-summer so the grass is tall, thick and absolutely gorgeous. There is enough grass there that I'm going to get at least another full month of solid grazing in before I have to start feeding those poop machines any hay at all.

Of course, putting up fence is never simple for me. Putting up fence IS simple, but for me, there's always something that makes it not so simple. I had to clear a pretty good path through the woods for the fence, then, ended up spending well over an hour untangling at least a 1/2 mile of electric rope that I made the mistake of letting my kiddo carry out to the pasture. Oh. Joy. That'll learn me. Next time, she can carry the spool, I'll carry the "loose" fencing.

Once I got all the posts set and the insulators on, it is a breeze putting up the rope, that took a little over and hour. And when I turned the horses out on it you would have thought they'd gone to heaven! Running and bucking and farting and checking out the new digs and looking like a small herd of babies just being SILLY! I love it when they behave like that. I could spend all day just watching them be horses. It makes my heart laugh.

Fence posts along the backside of the woods. They eventually head into the woods....this was tricky as I had to figure out how to best, and most safely, navigate the fence up and down a pretty good sized ravine.

The easier line to set...nice and straight, flat and even.


Oooh...where does this go? OMG! We've never seen this part before! RUN!!!! BUCK!!! SQUEAL LIKE GIRLS!

Keep in mind...Gabe is 16.2hh. That's some grass. I kept waiting to find a small village of people living in there somewhere.

And just in case any rabid squirrels attempted to carry me off to their evil little squirrel villages, I brought along my own personal protector.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mare on the market

The mare is going to hate my guts for the next few months. She started hating 'em last night when I pulled her tubby butt out of the pasture and put her back to work. She hasn't been ridden for months and I'm pretty sure she thought she was living in some kind of equine spa...no work, all play and plenty of good food and relaxation.

I put that fantasy to rest rather quickly.

She is officially back in training and I've given myself three months to get her more fit and put some finishing touches on her before I start advertising her for sale.

Right now she has basic training on her and has quite a few trail miles under her belt. She is quiet, sane and willing.

Her biggest downfall is her conformation. She is a cute mare, but she has a stick-straight shoulder, upright pasterns and a downhill build. I'm not going to be able to market her on stellar conformation: She's going to have to sell herself on her experience and training.

She goes English and Western and does trails. I've never taken the time to teach her to longe and long rein so that's on the list of things to get done with her. I'll also pop her over a few jumps, set up an obstacle course, take her out for more trail rides alone and fine-tune her to do more than the basic stop, go and turn. She has some lateral movement, but not much.

Kayleigh has ridden her a few times and she was wonderful for her, so I'm thinking that if I can market her as an all-around, do-anything horse suitable for a young rider she'll sell well. We'll see. The market isn't great, but she needs to find a new home as soon as possible and I'm going to do all I can to make sure I can get her into the best home possible.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

An update on the bony pony

A quick update on this post.

The horses eventually went home on their own. The animal control officer contacted the bad, bad horse owning neighbor, and, because I included my name in the complaint this time, she knew who was making waves about her starving horses. I later made another anonymous complaint to the county health department about the condition of her property, which is indescribable. Can you say health risk, junk heap, dump? Yeah. It's bad.

She called me to rant and rave and call me all kinds of delightful names, which I found slightly amusing. I remained polite, quiet and had a smile on my face the entire time she lost control of herself. I was waiting for her to start making monkey noises and threaten to fling poo while scraping her knuckles along the ground. It amazes me the names and threats angry people can come up with when things aren't going their way...especially when they KNOW they are in the wrong and can come up with nothing worse than "You stupid bitch," "ignorant asshole," and "busybody cunt." Joy. I've been called worse by better, on a daily basis. Comes with my job field.

She even have the nerve to threaten to call animal control on MY horses. I welcomed her to make that call, told her to make as many calls as she wants to as many animal welfare organizations as she wants as I have absolutely nothing to hide from anyone and told her as much. She threatened to call the police on me if I rode my horses on the road next to her house ever again, which I have permission to do from the landowner. But, I'll avoid the confrontation as there are PLENTY of other places to ride.

And, just as I suspected, her excuse for that walking bag of bones is AGE. Yes. Age. There is a certain level of ignorance I can tolerate, but this level of absolute stupidity astounds me in so many ways. I am going to keep a watchful eye on that horse through the winter as it appears the animal control officer did nothing more than talk to her. But he was familiar with her and the horses when I made the complaint, so I may not be the only one who knows what's going on in her field and thinks it's absolutely shameful. I will continue to make complaints for as long as that animal remains a rack of bones. Unfortunately, that's about all I can do, short of stealing them.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

This makes me so ANGRY!

Most of the time I'm a pretty laid back person and can take things in stride. But, there are a few things I get really, really angry about. Animal abuse and child abuse top my list.

For the past few years I've been trying to get something done about my neighbor's horses. I've reported them and I've provided hay for them (at no charge) when they were out. I've written about them previously here. This spring one of the three starving horses died after she got caught in their barbed wire fence and no one noticed she was missing for days.

This morning, the two remaining animals showed up on my farm and of course sent MY horses into a tizzy.

This is what I saw walking down my driveway:

This is Snickers, he is an Arabian cross and not older than 15. The POA in the background is Arrow, he doesn't look nearly as bad as Snickers.

There is absolutely no excuse, ever, for any animal to ever, ever look like this. None. People who are less informed may chalk this kind of condition up to age.

I've heard it more than once "You can't keep weight on old horses. They are just skinny."

Bullshit.

This isn't age. This is purely neglect and starvation and it doesn't happen over night. A body condition like this does not happen because you ran out of good hay for a week or two. This happens when you consistently don't feed quality feed or, heck, even bother to feed them at all.

Yes, older horses take more care, more calories, more hands-on maintenance and regular vet/dental care to keep them from getting to this point. Chief is 25. He looks fabulous, and is perhaps a bit on the too fat side. It takes a careful eye and adjusting of his diet to keep him healthy, but I do it because that's my responsibility. Period. I took on an aged horse knowing full well he could become expensive to maintain as he grew older.

I have dealt with horses who have a hard time holding weight. Star was one of those. I had to constantly pack the calories in her and keep the fat and protein in her diet fairly high, just to prevent her from becoming a walking rack of bones. Was it cheap? Hell no. Was it easy? Not a bit. Did I get to the point where she held her weight and looked GOOD? You betcha.

I have filed a report about these horses with the Sheriff's department and animal control. I can only hope they will do something to get these horses out of this situation. They deserve better.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A monster in the cornfield

If I didn't know better I'd swear there was cuttin' horse blood coursing through my Thoroughbred's blue-blooded veins.

That boy can drop rump and spin 180-degrees without thinking about it then take off like his tail was on fire. It's actually quite fun to ride...when I know it's coming!

Last night's arena ride was lazy and slow but we did good work. I remembered to ride the effort, but also took the time to just give him his head and let him find his own way without me nagging at him. I can become quite a "nagging" rider if I don't keep myself in check, especially on Gabe. He never expends more energy than he absolutely has to, so, to keep him working at a good walk or trot, I have to keep on him, pushing, pushing, pushing. Unfortunately I've been known to get stuck in the rut of pushing and nudging...I get into a rhythm...and I forget to give him the release/reward when he DOES step up. I worked on very obviously giving him a release when he stepped up like I asked. Granted, he reverts back to the drag-butt pace in a few strides, but I gave him release and only "nagged" at him when he started dragging.

We had plenty of Losgelassenheit, but not a whole lot of Schwung! Must work on the Schwung.

For portions of the ride I just released him, completely, and let him do as he wanted. I think it's good for a horse to know that every now and then they are in charge and can make the decisions. I believe it builds their confidence and encourages decision-making (if that's possible!). I'd rather have a horse who is confident enough to try to get us out of a bad situation than to wait for me to make a decision in a split-second...such as over cross-country jumps or out hunting.

After every ride we go out for a short trail ride as our cool-down and a nice hack-out after the real work. The farmers are in the fields and one of the fields next to my property is harvested so I decided we'd take a swing around it.

The combines have been out and spent most of the day behind the horses' pasture yesterday so I thought "eh, the combines won't bother him, he's seen 'em all day!"

Boy, was I ever wrong. Apparently the electric rope around the pasture prevents the combines from eating the horses. But you take him out of that roped off safety zone that giant, rumbling machine with teeth is GOING TO GET HIM!

As we were riding around the field one of the combines came up a rise and around a corner in the next field, straight towards us, spewing the remains of corn husks and smiling at Gabe with it's shiny, flesh-ripping teeth.

Gabe lost his everlovin' mind and decided he needed to save both of us from the corn-chomping monster. Drop rump, spin and RUN!!!! AWAY!!!!! from the beast of DOOM! I guess he DID have some energy hiding in that big body of his...he was just saving it for an emergency.

I thought I was a goner for a minute and remembered to push my heels down, shove my legs forward, stand up and press my hands firmly into his crest so he'd pull against himself, not me. Good thing I hack out with my reins bridged!

I let him run a bit and we settled quickly into a less frenetic rhythm. The thing about Thoroughbreds is, if you just let them go forward to get it out of their system, they get their minds back rather easily. If you fight them and make them go slow, slow, slow, the tension just builds to explosive levels. So we galloped. He snorted and blew and sweated and we galloped. Not far, maybe half a mile, but far enough for him to start to relax.

All I have to say is this: I am SO glad I put a really good stop on him or we may still be galloping!

Then, I turned his big gray butt around and we walked/jigged/hopped/side-passed right back towards the maw of the metal beast. He didn't want to, but he went because I insisted. And once we got close enough (a couple hundred feet), I made him stand/jiggle/wiggle/dance and wait for it to make a corner and head away from us before I allowed him turn around and walk back from where we came.

There are lessons in everything and in everything, I take the opportunity to turn it into a learning experience in the hopes that one day the corn, the telephone pole, the combine and the waving marker flag will no longer incite him to turn tail and run.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The engaged rider

Some times, you're just a passenger along for the ride.

Other times, you are a rider.

It always makes me smile when non-riders comment with "Riding isn't REAL exercise. The horse does all the work."

Well. Yes and no. Depends on the ride. If you're just a passenger, then yes, the horse IS doing all the work. Being a passenger is just fine for trail rides or hacking out.

But if you are a RIDER, then you work for the ride. You sweat, you ache, you get winded and muscles can get sore and even cramp. Because being a rider is about being more than a passenger, you're a partner working to help your horse be his very best. He needs your support, your guidance and your ability to stay upright and in balance with him, not just sitting there like a useless sack of potatoes making his job harder.

Last night Gabe reminded me how very important it is to be a rider, not a passenger. He was having a rough time with circles tracking right. Falling out big time, feeling really unbalanced and unsure of himself as he tried to do as I asked.

And then I realized I was just being a passenger guiding him through the exercises. I wasn't giving him the support he needed to really use his body in the most effective, efficient and beautiful way possible.

So I stepped up my game, got in tune with him and RODE. I engaged my core, realized I was collapsing a hip around the corners, which subsequently threw him off balance and caused him him to fall out, and put him on my aids, between the reins and my legs, balanced my seat bones on him evenly and asked him to match me.

And he did. It took a little bit but once I was in tune with HIM he tuned in to me and matched my body, balanced, even and upright. It awes me the way they are able to match your body nearly step for step when you take the time and the effort to be in balance and harmony with them. It doesn't take brute strength to bend them nicely around a corner: It takes an engaged core, a tightening of the obliques on the inside of the circle and a slight adjustment of the seat bones and upper body to guide them.

Sometimes I forget to use the classical dressage "spiral seat" but once I remember to engage it magic happens under the saddle and I want to beat myself about the head and shoulders for failing my horse and making HIM do all the work or struggle beneath my unbalanced weight. My personal riding goal is to never forget to use it!

There is a reason Alois Podhajsky, Nuno Oliveira, Reiner Klimke and Walter Zettl are known as the "masters." They know classical dressage and anyone who wants to be more than just a passenger along for the ride should study them or find a trainer who has studied them. Their writing is inspiring, their methods fair to the horse and their insights often create an "ah ha!" moment for me.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Shorter and shorter

It always happens this way.

Just a week ago I was currying the last of Gabe's fuzzy winter coat from his body to reveal the slick, shiny summer coat hiding beneath those long hairs. Well, it felt like a week ago. Who can forget the billions of itchy hairs stuck to every part of your body and clothing on a daily basis? Not me!

Now, I'm already grooming the slick summer hairs from him and watching as daily he turns a darker shade of gray and those glorious dapples become even more prominent. I never really realized a gray could actually bleach out under the summer sun, but it turns out they do. The coat beneath his mane was a few shades darker than the rest of his body. Good thing we didn't do any showing this year or that would look mighty funny when he was all braided up.

Where did the summer go and why did it go so quickly? I ask this question every year as the days grow shorter and the coats grow longer and I never really have a good answer. Pretty soon I'll be relegated to riding on weekends only again or braving the darkness with just a headlamp lighting our way. There is almost nothing more challenging than riding in the dark on a horse who has decided the best thing in the world to do is shy at the light bobbing along in front of him while keeping a wary ear cocked towards the woods...which are absolutely brimming with horse-eating monsters.

But, with the shorter days come my most favorite time of year: The crisp, cool mornings of fall. The delightful smell of falling leaves, cooling soil and an invigorating chill in the air that makes my horses dance with joy at being alive and frisky.

I chased a fox off my property yesterday. A big, brave critter that decided my chickens looked like an easy, tasty meal right there in my arena. Fortunately he wasn't quite fast enough to catch my chickens but I'm sure he'll be back to give it another go.

And seeing that fox in his red coat and bushy tail made me long to spend my weekends fox hunting. Oh, how I miss that thrill! I was hoping to take Gabe out on his first hunt this season, but it doesn't look like that will happen. Not because he's not ready to hunt and not because I'm not DYING to hunt him, but because I am currently lacking transportation to get him to the fixtures. *sigh* Maybe next year. I guess I should move "my own horse trailer" higher on to the needs list, eh?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Bits and muddy butts

I've tried a plain eggbutt snaffle, a loose-ring comfort mouth snaffle, a plain D-ring snaffle and a full-cheek snaffle on Gabe.

He hated the full-cheek, played like crazy with the loose-ring and just didn't seem to care for either the eggbutt or the D-ring.

I have one more mild snaffle in my arsenal of bits.


It's a Myler comfort mouth level 2 snaffle with hooks. Sounds complicated, but it's one of the most interesting and mildest bits I've used. It's a snaffle with a very, very small port on it for tongue relief. The hooks, which are spaces to connect the bridle and the reins directly to the D-ring, stabilize the bit in the mouth and the way the snaffle joint is connected it prevents the "nutcracker" effect of most snaffles and allows me to move each side of the bit independent of the other. I really like this bit.

And apparently, so does Gabe! He mouthed it a bit, chewed on it, wiggled it around as much as he could, sighed and dropped his head. He wasn't quite sure what to think at first about the port and my ability to move each side of the bit independently, but he figured it out pretty quickly and seemed to accept it far better than the other bits I've used.


But before I could ride, I had to deal with THIS. Seriously Gabe? Must we roll and roll and roll every single time it rains? And what's wrong with rolling in the grass? Must you find the slickest, wettest, muddiest spot available?


Nothing like a mud-covered beast to start your riding time out right! He likes to grind it in good. And our mud isn't just mud, it's mostly clay, so even on a summer coat, it sticks like glue.



Luckily he didn't grind too much mud into the tail. Usually I'm picking huge clumps and giant hard balls of mud out of the end. He was at least kind enough to spare me that extra effort.


I love this horse's eye. They are so dark, deep and expressive. I can lose myself in them and I get the feeling there is a whole lot going on in that head that I'll never know. It's almost like gazing into the eyes of a lover. Can't you see the intelligence in there?



I LOVE this picture. Amazing how waiting an hour to catch the light of the setting sun makes such a big difference in the ambiance of the photo.

Monday, August 30, 2010

On the road again...

I love it when friends come over to ride with me. I love riding with my kid, but honestly, adult company is very welcome. It can get quite lonely riding by myself all the time!

We went out road riding on the rarely-traveled back roads. You know, the ones that are barely a full lane wide? Thought about riding through the bottoms but with harvest in full-swing, I didn't want to risk running into any extra-loud combines rumbling through the already-scary dry and noisy corn stalks. Especially not when Kayleigh was riding with us.

She enjoys riding ahead, blazing the trails and leading the pack. Good thing Chief doesn't really care where he is in the "pack." Gabe is asking, very nicely, if he can trot to catch up. He was quite well-behaved most of the ride. There were a couple of spook-n-scoot sideways moments, but nothing major.

Can you tell she loves that old App? He does good by her. She can hang all over him and he just takes it without twitching an ear.

Seriously Gabe. What's with the mane? Sheesh. Your stylist is not on the ball with this one.

We were out for a couple of hours and the horses were content to just plod along, heads low, hooves draggin'. And while I would have liked a little more "pep in the step" I'm not going to complain! Years of riding horses that jigged and wiggled and couldn't JUST WALK! on the trail sure makes my plod-along ride that much more appreciated.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Equine ADD

Some horses you can toss out in a pasture for months and they are exactly the same when you pull them back out for a ride. This is Chief. He can go unridden and unused for weeks at a time and there is never a moment when he "forgets" that it's his job to take care of his young rider. He's steady, ready and willing to march along and do his steady-eddy thing.

Then there are those who need regular reminder sessions. I call them ADD horses. They remember what they want when they want and are very, very easily distracted. My old TB mare, Star, was this kind of horse. Loved her to death and she was always fun (if sometimes a significant challenge) but the training could be trying. She was really, really good at forgetting everything if she got more than two days off at a time. That third day was spent catching back up and reminding her of everything she'd completely put out of her silly little head. Give her a week or more off and I practically had to start all over again. Moving forward and progressing was often a trial in two steps forward, one step back.

Gabe, he falls somewhere in between the two. Ridden regularly, which for me is at least four days a week if the weather, the mud, the daylight and the farm-work cooperate while the planets align, he is a delight. I can build on what we learned before and keep moving forward. I very much like forward progression, especially when I can see the goal getting closer and closer.

If he gets a solid week off I have to spend at least one riding session just reminding him that yes, he does know how to turn and trot nicely and not leap around like he's mounted to a pogo stick. And honestly, it doesn't even have to be a riding session, just some time in the long reins gets the brain ticking along the right track again.

I have managed to ride four times this week and the results have been nothing short of wonderful. Each ride is a little better than the last, his mind is in the game for longer each ride and I feel like we are clicking more often. The lateral work last night was the best yet after I spent a few minutes on the ground reminding him to move away from the pressure before getting into the saddle.

Circles are feeling less like taking a corner on a motorcycle and more like powering through each stride balanced and upright, as it should be. He still seriously pops that shoulder and crooks the neck to the outside tracking left...but it's slowly, incrementally getting better.

He is getting quicker off my leg for transitions (a few well-timed reminders with the dressage whip fixed his extended response delay to transition up cues) and I find I'm using my reins less and less and he "hears" my body cues more and more.

Clicking, connecting, understanding. It's a beautiful thing.

The corn still freaks him out but I'm starting to think it's an excuse for him to be a silly boy and test me. The corn has gone from lush and green to dry, brown and quite loud in the breeze. Our cool-down walk along the driveway was interesting as he flicked his ears at the rustling sounds coming from the field and snorted at it more than a few times.

Getting him anywhere NEAR those rows was fun, but I managed to get him close enough to encourage him to touch his nose to a single dried leaf. And wouldn't you know it, when he touched it, it rustled and moved and OH MY GOD! Tried to EAT HIM! He can definitely move laterally, quite quickly and with much agility and athleticism. Now I need to figure out how to harness that power and athleticism so he will do the same thing when I ask, not just when the corn attacks him.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Pumping it up

The summer heat has definitely taken it's toll on the energy of all the horses, especially Gabe, it seems.

You'd never guess he was an off-the-track five-year-old Thoroughbred by his behavior under saddle. He can sure be lazy, lazy, lazy. I rode last night and had to get after him a few times to keep moving instead of dribbling into a Western pleasure horse trot with his nose to the ground.

I started our session on the ground working on yielding to pressure, moving his body away from first the pressure of my closed fist, then the palm, then my fingertips, finally, the tickle of my dressage whip, all on the ground. He's getting it. Slowly but surely it's making sense to him. You can almost see the little light bulb above his head growing brighter with each little bit of understanding.

I needed to really pump up his energy because he was dragging butt. Big time. He took long, low and slow to a whole new level of plod-along. Now, I KNOW this horse has energy and FORWARD when he wants. He just didn't want to. I don't blame him, it was kinda hot and the horses haven't had much relief from the heat this summer.

But I needed him to move forward to get some of the work done I wanted to get done. Trot poles are a great way to get him up and forward and really moving, so we went over those a few times and I could feel him starting to perk up.

A few leg yields to the rail down the long side were acceptable considering he's just starting to "get it." I try never to "over-drill" in any one thing. Keep their minds active and in the game and you have a much better chance of actually getting through those skulls without boring the snot out of them.

Then, I threw in a twist. So far I've been pretty content to let him trot at his own tempo and pace as long as he keeps moving forward without dribbling into a walk. Last night, I pushed him hard into an extended trot down the long side, then slowed into a more collected trot around the corners. He wasn't quite sure what to think at first but offered when I asked...and I took it. A few good extended trots and he was feeling more powerful and energetic again. He, amazingly, rounded into the bridle and I could feel his back lift and his hind end tuck under to work that trot. And work it he did. His extended trot, while no where near show arena ready, was like flying. All that power at my fingertips, literally, is so freakin' exhilarating in so many way. Flying. That's what we were doing, we were soaring together in delightful harmony.

I am kind of surprised at how adjustable he is at this stage. I slow and lower my posting, he slows with me, matching me. I speed it up a bit and make it bigger, he matches me stride for stride. This isn't him rushing around with his head in the air just going faster and faster and faster with short, fast little strides. The tempo remained nearly the same, it was just BIGGER. Those who have ridden dressage school-masters know what I mean.

And we cantered. Have I mentioned I love his canter? Pretty sure I have...a few times. The most amazing, up, powerful, forward, comfortable canter I have ever ridden. And no giraffe neck with a horrible hollow back! He actually lifts and rounds like he's supposed to. Delightful. I could ride it all day long! We did a few up and down transitions between the trot and canter and he's really starting to understand what I'm asking and paying attention to me, those ears flicking back and forth constantly, waiting and asking what to do next.

Tonight will be a relaxing ride, I believe. We'll see how he's feeling, but I see a few trails through the woods in our future.

Happy trails!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The rearview

We finally got a decent break in the heat and I was able to work Gabe a bit. Not in the saddle though. After Sunday's ride I decided we needed a bit more ground work on moving away from the leg and making circles without our head swung to the outside.

So we did just over an hour of groundwork in the long reins. It's great exercise for the "rider" to have to run along with the beast to get the work done! I was definitely dripping sweat more than he was by the time we accomplished some of the goals I had.


Long and low and relaxed. Look at how nicely he's marching forward! I almost have to jog to keep up with his working walk. I want to note that I do not have the long reins attached correctly for more advanced long rein work. I had them running through the rings of the surcingle and clipped directly to the bit because we were just working on turns and very, very low-level lateral movements. When I want to work him on correct bend, higher level lateral movements and really working that hind end I'll thread the reins through the bit and then clip the ends back to the surcingle on a higher ring where it will give a different action and effect on his mouth.


Starting to get a wee bit of hind end cross-over on lines. It took FOREVER to get just this little bit of sideways movement. Gabe is having a really hard time figuring out exactly what I'm asking when I nudge him over: It's like his brain just isn't connecting to the pressure on his side. He's the same way standing at the hitching post. He just doesn't get it when I tap him to move over. This issue is going to be my top priority until the little bells go off in his Thoroughbred mind and he has an "AH HA!" moment.


All in all, a good session. I got lots of hugs afterwards. This horse makes me so happy...I love his guts!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Is it fall yet?

What I love most about summer: The heat.
What I hate most about summer: The heat.

I guess there's just no pleasing some people!

I look forward to every summer and the chance to ride every day if I feel like it. In my somewhat skewed memory, summers as a horse-crazy teen were dry and hot and windy — that hot, dusty summer smell mingling so perfectly with the scent of my mare's sweat sticky-slick on my shorts-clad legs and that delightful horse aroma enveloping me as we went wherever our imaginations would allow. The occasional dip in a nearby creek or swim across the river cooled our dusty skin. We dried quickly, that hot wind evaporating the water and the sweat and leaving us appropriately cooled in the process.

Heat has never bothered me.

But these summers in Illinois are different than those I grew up with in Kansas.

They are hot and disgusting: A sticky, wet, muggy, suffocating heat that leaves little energy or desire to do anything but sit around in the air conditioning and curse the summer. And that means very little energy to ride. The endless days of dangerous heat advisories haven't helped matters much as I pace inside and beg for a breeze, a dip in temperature, a cool fall morning.

There is no constant wind to dry the sweat. There is only sweat that soaks and drips and drenches and clothes that cling uncomfortably to every inch of covered skin. There is no relief, just relentless, brutal heat.

My horses come in from the pasture drenched in sweat and drooping from the tips of their ears to the ends of their tails. The horse flies have been absolutely unforgiving this summer and no amount or brand of fly spray deters them. Who wants to ride when the horse is already exhausted and miserable? Not me.

I just want to ride. I need to ride. I dream about riding. I rode Sunday but it was a short ride just to get on and do my soul good. It did a lot of good but I need more!

I hate Illinois summers. Hate. Them.

You see, the bitter cold I can deal with. As long as my face isn't getting frostbitten, I'm outside. The dry heat I can deal with. This boil-water-on-your-skin and suck the life out of you humidity? Not so much.

Please fall, arrive soon? I miss you much. I'm so totally over summer.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

OH, that mareish squeal!

Mares or geldings?

I have always had mares, always loved mares and appreciated their attitude and yes, even sympathized with their hormonal issues. After all, I have the same issues: Attitude, bitchiness and extended hormonal moments that amount to extreme moodiness.

I've always assumed I'll never have anything but mares. When I was looking for another horse after Star died, I was looking for mares. I didn't give geldings a passing glance. The experience I'd had with geldings amounted to horses that were overly compliant, slow and maybe a little on the dumb side. You could ask them to jump off a cliff and they would.

Mares, on the other hand, present a challenge. You ask a mare nicely, sometimes you even have negotiations with a mare. You never tell a mare without repercussions. They resent unfairness and tend to hold grudges. I like that in my horses. I didn't want a horse that was predictable all the time. How boring and mind-numbing is that?

But when I saw Gabe it was over. Gelding or not, he was the one and I knew it instantly. I almost didn't even go look at him because he had the wrong "parts." I'm glad I did. I knew he was different than the other geldings I'd had experience with. He is a gelding with a bit of a stallion attitude. He presents just enough of a challenge to keep me on my toes, but at the same time, he is different than a mare. I pretty much know what to expect from him from day to day. There are no mood swings or bitchiness, there is the occasional teen-like attitude from him, but if you finesse him a bit and point him down the right path, he complies with little grumbling. He's just testing his boundaries I do believe and I don't mind. He isn't the type of gelding I've run into in the past...he isn't the typical "tell a gelding" kind of guy. We have negotiations and discussions but they are reasonable. He just asks that I be fair and I just ask that he put in a good effort and as long as both sides understand the rules, we get along fabulously.

I don't have to wash his tail and back legs every other month due to mare-ish grossness. But I really can do without the sheath cleaning...ewww...stinky!

The more I watch Calypso out in the pasture really being bossy and bitchy to both geldings, the more I don't want to have one in my little herd of boys and the more I understand why so many large barns keep their mares and geldings separated. Mares are shit-disturbers. I've seen her go out of her way to chase Gabe around. We have fairly good-sized pastures and she'll go all the way to the OTHER side of the field just to move Gabe around, not because he's wandered too close, not because he's being obnoxious towards her, but simply because she can. I think that once she is taken out of the herd the two boys will get along fabulously. She's an instigator, she's a hussy with no qualms about playing both sides of the proverbial fence...she's buddy-buddy with Gabe one hour, the next hour, he's getting the stink eye and she's rubbing all over Chief like he's all that and a bag of chips.

I still love mares. I still like their personality and their attitudes and their witchiness...but I think I'm at a time in my life when I need a little less drama in the arena and on the trail, and right now, Gabe is my perfect match.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

On the trails

A friend came over to ride with me Monday and we ended up logging at least 10 miles on the ponies before 10 a.m.

All three of the beasties got to participate in the trail trek: Me on Gabe, Kayleigh on Chief and my friend Jacquie tooled around on Calypso. I loved having someone to ride with, someone I didn't have to constantly remind to shorten up her reins or pay attention to her surroundings or put her heels down. Love riding with my kid, don't get me wrong, but sometimes it sure is nice to ride with an experienced rider I don't have to worry about.

So, out we went, the horses seemed pleased to be going out together and were quite happy to travel along three abreast. We headed down the road and into the bottoms which is all farmland with roads running between the fields.

Gabe was a little looky loo at ditches and rocks and stumps, oh my! But he was good. He tried to pull his "I'm gonna back up because I don't wanna go forward where YOU want me to go forward" crap a few times and he got a couple of good, smart smacks with the whip and it set him straight.

Chief was excellent, as usual. Just plodded along, head down, ears flopping to the side, lip loose and relaxed. I swear I saw him fall asleep a few times.

Calypso...whoo. That little mare needs a few more miles under her belt. She was a handful for Jacquie, spooking at everything, going with her head high and her strides short and choppy. Guess I need to get my butt in gear and put those miles on her before I try to sell her.

We took advantage of some of the long, flat stretches of dirt road and did some extended trotting and a bit of cantering. Gabe loved it so much he had to toss a few good twisty bucks in there! What fun! I laughed at him in his silliness, got him straightened out and gave him a good wither rub for being such a good, albeit silly, boy.

We crossed two wide, quickly flowing creeks. Gabe had no problem at all getting his feet wet. In fact, he stood in the second one and pawed and pawed and pawed, which I let him do, until I felt those knees starting to buckle. OH NO YOU DON'T! I had a pony who used to drop and roll in every puddle and creek we crossed...I wasn't about to let my big Thoroughbred do the same! Nudge to go forward. No reaction. Nudge, Nudge. Nope. He kept pawing and snorting and sticking his nose in the water to blow bubbles. Ugh.

I had to break out the whip again to get that booger OUT of the water. I mean, seriously, how often does that happen? Usually I'm breaking out the whip to get them to move forward into the water!

At least I know water crossings are not an item on his phobia list. Whew!

By the time we got back home we were all pleasantly tired and sweaty. The horses were excellent, the company fantastic. I'm so ready to do it again soon and it definitely made me realize how very much I miss riding with adults.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Move along, move along now!

Oh, was he ever a good boy. I mean, a really, really good boy. Aside from having developed a serious lazy side, we had an absolutely awesome ride Thursday evening.

What is up with the laziness? I mean really. Gabe...in case no one bothered to tell you, you're a THOROUGHBRED. Which means you're supposed to like to go forward at a faster pace than a drunken snail. Sometimes I feel like I'm riding a dead-sided warmblood or a plod-along drafty. Seriously. Move it! Pick up those feet. When there are hoof drag lines in the dirt behind you...that's you being a great big lazy lug.

I assure you there is absolutely nothing physically wrong with him, he just doesn't feel like doing much. He responds to my requests, he just does it at his own pace!

I very briefly considered strapping on a pair of spurs to deal with this lazy issue, but quickly quashed that idea. Spurs are not to be used for forward, they are for sideways. So, I'm upping my expectations of what he offers as "forward" and I'm going to make that lazy boy work for his meals. He is slow off the leg and want him to be ELECTRIC off the leg, which means I'll be employing the use of my dressage whip a little more often than I do now.

The cornfield was not an issue and the telephone poles barely warranted a second glance. I guess the time I took to really get him to look at them and think about those things stuck. Thank goodness the boy has a brain. He might not have get up and go, but at least he has a brain!

The more we work the canter the more I realize he was regularly worked in draw reins on the track, which isn't a surprise to me at all. I hate, hate, hate draw reins and I hate even more trying to undo the curled neck created by draw reins. It is not an easy nor fun task. But, I have been working on it.

So, onward we go! Goals: Energize the gaits, keep working on the lateral response and get him out and about even more. The more we see and experience, the better he is!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

As the sun rises

The weather here has been absolutely phenomenal for the last couple of days: Down into the 60s at night and a tad bit chilly in the morning. Perfect riding weather!

Wednesday morning the kiddo and I set out bright and early on Chief and Calypso for a nice little trail ride before I had to leave for work. The world is so amazing and fresh and beautiful at 5 a.m. when the sun is just starting to peek up over the horizon and the birds are waking.

Of course, the ride always begins with grooming! She has some trouble reaching his back, but he's patient.

Saddle? We don't need no stinking saddle!

I love the trails we have to ride on. Lovely, especially in the morning. Look! Calypso is listening to me! She was a good girl. Fat and out of shape, but good. Please forgive the mud "beads" in her forelock. She wouldn't let me get them out yet insists on rolling in the biggest mud puddle she can find each and every time. Little pig.

Oooohhh...someone was NOT very happy with me for leaving him behind. If a horse could be jealous, I'm pretty sure he was.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Monsters in the cornfield

The cornfield is suspect.

He Who Walks Between The Rows may be watching, waiting, licking his lips in anticipation of sweet horse flesh.

The cornfield is especially worrisome when it just kind of pops up out of nowhere and changes the entire familiar scenery. It might even send a silly thoroughbred in to spasms of absolute terror.

Once again I was up with the sun and on my beast. This time, I had company. My youngest daughter cheerfully got up with me and was riding Chief bareback. He's such a gem and worth twice his weight in gold.

We did a few minutes of warm-up arena work and headed on out for a quick trail ride before I had to leave for work.

Down the driveway and into the woods we went, Gabe looking at everything, spooking at bunnies, ears flipping all over the place, mouth foaming like crazy, working that bit like a wad of Juicy Fruit and a whole lot of bouncy, bouncy Tigger-like action in his step. I swear he installed springs on his hooves over night.

Yesterday I mentioned to someone that Gabe has two personalities: He either is on his best behavior and takes care of me or he flips a switch and tries to kill me. You never really know what you're going to get. It's just goofy thoroughbred stuff, nothing malicious and actually, I enjoy the challenge he presents each and every day.

Today he was in kill me mode.

The last time I took him out along the driveway the corn was knee-high. We have corn fields along the driveway and corn fields across the road.

This time it was well over his head. The heat and the rain have done enormous favors for the corn!

He didn't like that ONE BIT. Wide-eyed and snorty, bouncy, bouncy, dancing sideways, wiggle-worming all around the place with every breeze that rustled the leaves and gave him peeks of the monsters lurking behind the rows.

Then he suddenly realized the scenery across the road had changed. He could no longer see for miles and miles across open, flat fields. It was a wall of waving, rustling, terrifying green.

He freaked out. Spin and run AWAY! Ok. You want to be a turd? Fine. Circle, circle, circle you big nutjob. I could feel him shaking beneath me and he grew from 16.2hh to about 18hh. Then, he refused to budge. Would NOT go forward towards the Great Wall of Corn and the menace lurking behind the rows. Would not turn. Just stood. And stared. And slobbered.

The ride ended up longer than I'd intended, but with persistence and patience, we slowly edged our way up to the corn: Two steps forward...four steps back, spin and snort. When we finally made it to the edge of the field I let him take a bite of a stalk and that eased his silly little mind. Typical male...win over his mind through his stomach.

Thankfully Chief just stood staring at Gabe's antics like he'd lost his mind. Which he kinda had. I'm pretty sure I saw Chief sigh and shake his head a few times, an old geezer fed up with teenage behavior. Thank goodness Chief is as non-reactive and quiet as he is or poor Kayleigh would have either ended up in the dirt or been a little mad at me for making her ride less than enjoyable.

So, we have defeated the Cornfield Monster and the Gates To Hell. I wonder what's next on our "OH MY GOD!! INSTANT DEATH!" list of things to conquer? hehe!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

O'dark Thirty

Funny how early 5 a.m. seems to come. And how hard it is to get out of bed when the sun is barely peeking above the horizon. But, get out of bed I did to get into my breeches and boots and take the big guy out for a spin.

It was still a bit hot and humid out even at that early hour, but far less oppressive than waiting until evening. But it heated up FAST. By the time the sun was fully visible I could feel the temperature rising minute by minute and I was so glad I got up before the sun.

That horse is definitely an ex-racehorse. He loves his morning workouts and really listens better in the morning. But he also showed me exactly why he is an EX-racehorse.

What a lazy bones booger-head he was! Drag, drag, drag along. Shuffle those feet, amble the walk. Seriously. I thought I was riding a dead-broke, 30-year-old quarter horse or something. My legs got a serious workout just keeping him moving! And of course, I forgot to grab my dressage whip because I was in such a rush to get up and get riding before I had to leave for work.

All in all, it was a good ride. I squeezed him up into a trot and he offered a very nice canter instead, so I went with it and just let him go. I figured if he was gonna be a lazy-pants, I'd let him give me as much forward movement as he wanted to give! Such a glorious canter he has, too. Ground-eating, smooth, delicious and addictive.

I only worked him for just about 45 minutes. It was starting to get hot and I didn't want to push him too much. Our last 15 minutes or so was spent on lateral work and moving away from my leg as soon as I ask. No ifs, ands or buts about it. If he feels my leg tapping, he'd better ask how far and how fast before he asks why should I? Our little telephone pole/truck episode made me realize I really, really need to work his booty off on the lateral/move away from my leg stuff. I've let it slide for too long and now I need to get it done and get it done right before we do anything else.

The morning ride brought back some delightful memories. When I was in high school, living in Kansas, I'd get up at the butt-crack of dawn during the summer so I could ride before the heat became unbearable. Sometimes, I'd get up and ride before school too. A fabulous way to start the day!

Those were some of the best rides ever. I'd take my little mare, Sunny, out for a gallop. No endless circles or dressage or silly arena work for us. We'd run and jump anything in our path: Logs, ditches, downed trees, discarded railroad ties, tires, hay bales in the field. We jumped a little junked car before the weeds grew up around it and hid it from view. Sometimes bareback. Sometimes bareback with just a halter and leadrope. Sometimes we'd go down to the river for a swim. I wasn't SUPPOSED to, but I did any way. I cherish those memories and that wonderful little mare. She never asked why should I? She just did. Everything I asked, she never balked and we had some of the best times ever.

One day Gabe will get past the why should I? phase and we can start filling our own book full of delightful memories and experiences.