Monday, May 31, 2010

The Barbie dream horse

There is something to be said about riding different horses whenever the opportunity presents itself. Sure, I LOVE to ride Gabe, he's my number one guy, but sometimes, a girl's got to shake it up a little bit to keep things spicy.

But today I got to ride the cutest little Palomino mare whose prior life was as a gaming horse. She looks like Dallas, the Barbie horse that every little girl drooled over and dreamed about having: Long, luxurious blond mane and tail and gleaming coat that shone like a brand new golden coin.

She's a sweet, kind little mare who is always trying to please. A pleasant change from a gelding who is more apt to ask "Why the heck should I?" instead of just replying with "Ok! Here we go! More? Less? Good?"

Chipper belongs to a friend of mine and we went for a trail ride early Monday morning. The weather was wonderful, a slight breeze. But the bugs, ugh. The bugs. Poor ponies were absolutely miserable with biting flies and deer flies when we got down near the woods in the bottoms.

This was the first time I've ridden Chipper and it was so much fun being on a gaming pony again. A touch of the rein on her neck and she was OVER there. A shift back in the saddle and she was stopping, an ear tipped back questioningly...Stop? Slow? What do you want? I'll give! A slight tap with my leg and she was ready to go as fast and as far as I wanted her to. She definitely made me aware of how much I use my leg...apparently, too much for her sensitive sides.

She was almost looking for barrels to run and if I'd had some, I'd have let her run 'em as much as she wanted! All I had to do was ask.

Sometimes I miss running barrels and poles with my old quarter pony Blaze or my little quarter mare, Sunny. Such a rush!

I'm definitely looking forward to riding her again. Maybe next time, we'll find a barrel or two and give her a good run for her money. Yeehaw!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The morning type

I have discovered that Gabe is a morning horse.

We went from winter to summer over night and I knew the day would quickly become hot, humid and absolutely unbearable well before noon so I decided to haul myself out of bed at the crack of dawn to get my ride in.

I was on the big gray beast before 6 a.m. It was gorgeous out: Cool, quiet and a perfectly beautiful morning. I stepped outside and Gabe nickered in his low, growly feeding time voice, ears pricked at me and probably wondering why I had no feed buckets in my hands

I almost felt bad for pulling him out of his paddock before the sun even began peeking above the horizon. But only for a few minutes. He dropped his head into his halter and seemed quite eager to get the show on the road, which surprised me.

I just never imagined him as much of a morning pony.

He was fabulous. Workmanlike, giving, eager and responsive. It was probably the best ride we've had yet. And I loved the peace and quiet, knowing everyone else in the house was still sleeping and I was getting uninterrupted, wonderful time with my big guy.

He was so good I took him out for a trail ride. We were only out for about half an hour but he was so, so good. No spooks, no prancing and dancing and being silly.

Just a steady horse marching along, looking around and really paying attention. The only thing he gave a few glances to were the cows gathered up around the fence along the road. But a few taps with the dressage whip and we were on our way. I talked to him the entire time, and his ears kept flicking back at me as if he were really listening.

By the time we headed back to the house his head was low, his body swinging and relaxed and he was walking with purpose without rushing. It was an absolutely delightful ride.

I need longer reins if we're going to keep doing this! I need about 5 more inches of rein so I'm not throwing my arms as far forward as they will go and then leaning forward just to give him the room he needs to really stretch down.

What a good boy. What a good, good boy.

I think I'm going to have to start getting up at the butt-crack of dawn more often just to ride.

By 8 a.m. it was disgusting out. I was dripping sweat just by being outside and the air had already become heavy and thick.

Welcome to Southern Illinois summers!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Do they love?

I'm just as guilty of anthropomorphizing my animals, especially my horses, as the next person. I assign human feelings and emotions to them constantly, even though deep inside I know they don't feel those things the same way we do. I've even been known to talk in what I imagine their voices to be to describe a feeling or thought I've assigned to them at the moment.

But I often wonder if horses can feel love, or at least, affection. Or are they just looking to you for leadership and safety?

Gabe really made me wonder this morning about what he actually feels towards me. I know he trusts me enough to know I won't hurt him. He comes up to me every time I'm near or in his paddock, so he obviously enjoys being near me.

Or, perhaps it's the pocket full of peppermints he's craving.

But this morning was different.

I turned all three out into the pasture. They all follow me up the hill and through the gate to the grass, then typically, they all take off like they've been cooped up for MONTHS, running and bucking and chasing each other. Silly beasts.

However, this morning, Gabe didn't take off with the other two. He followed me to the gate, nudging my back a few times until I stopped to scratch his favorite itchy places. He makes the greatest faces when he gets a good scratch...I'll have to try to get a photo sometime. His eyes have actually rolled up into his head a few times and he drools out of wrinkled, contorted lips.

So, I complied with a few scratches and turned to the gate again to leave.

This time he moved up quickly behind me and dropped his head over my shoulder as if to stop me. He had his head completely over my shoulder and nudged his chin against my chest in a "come back here" kind of motion.

I stopped, scratched his itchy places again, told him what a silly nut he was and suggested he go eat some good, green grass.

Again, I moved to leave and again, he tried to stop me, this time with his chin on my shoulder. I turned around to playfully chastise him and he immediately pressed his forehead against my chest...not rubbing, just standing there with his head on me.

He sighed deeply and half-closed his eyes.

It was quite moving in a way only horse people can understand. My heart swelled with adoration for this big, gray horse.

By the time I was done scratching and petting and whispering sweet nothings in his ear my work clothes were covered with gray hairs and my hands and nails dark with his body grime.

If I didn't know better, I'd say the big goofball loves me. At least a little bit.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Waiting for it

Having been out of the saddle for the past couple of weeks due to torrential downpours, out-of-town trips and soul-sucking mud, tacking Gabe up tonight was a whole lot like standing in line waiting for my turn to ride the biggest, fastest, most heart-pounding roller coaster ever made.

Yes, there were butterflies. But not the BAD butterflies, the good ones. The ones that bang around in your belly in unveiled anticipation and excitement.

I was ready to ride my big, silly boy, no matter what he threw at me. I flung a leg over his back, settled quietly in the saddle and waited. Typically, if he's going to put on his bad boy pants and have a little fun at my expense, it starts at the mounting block with a squeal, a hop and a head fling and he bounces away from the block.

So, I waited.

And waited some more. Then a little more.

And heaved a giant sigh, releasing all those excited little butterflies as I nudged him into a walk and he immediately complied. His head dropped, the neck stretched and he exhaled heavily, seconds after I did, tipping an ear back to me as if to ask "All right, what now? I'm ready! Let's get to it."

We nailed the trot to halts, halts to trot, from rein back directly lifting in trot, beautiful. He really gave and stretched in the circles stepping far far far under himself with his back end. We floated around the arena...oh my. What a TROT! It's exhausting because it's so POWERFUL, but it's so delightful to ride. You can't help but swell with pride and grin like an idiot as you cruise around on a horse with a trot like that. We extended and collected the walk by seat only. Yes, I threw away the reins for more than a few moments at a time and trusted him to not take advantage. We side passed left, side passed right. Halted square, cantered both directions and completed one very decent simple lead change across the center line. We did a turn on haunches and several quite correct shoulder ins.

Our canter departs need work. But after all we accomplished today? That's small stuff.

I have a strong feeling we would do quite admirably at a dressage show this summer should we make it to one.

He twitched an ear in the direction of Chief and Calypso when they decided to take off hell-bent-for-leather, bucking and kicking at each other in the pasture next to the arena. Nothing but an ear wiggle towards them was all he gave. I could have hugged his guts out.

Every time I ride he surprises me and I fall even more head over heels for him. Because not only does he have the beauty and brawn, but dangit, I lucked out and got one with brains too!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Why yes, he's mine!

Thanks to the incessant rain I haven't been able to ride for about a week. The arena has stayed muddy, and while I CAN ride in the mud, I choose not to. I have a grass arena and those divots don't do much for the overall surface of the arena. Besides, riding a horse overly concerned about their footing is not very productive and really, not much fun.

Gabe was amazing on our last ride. Quiet, really working through, dropping his head and raising his back while really working that hind end and responding nicely to my requests for shoulders in around the corners. We've been working half halts, too, and those are getting better and better.

There was no head tossing, silly spooking or sudden forward and unexpected movements. There was no "teenage snottiness" when I asked for something, no "Yeah? Really? Why should I? I don't really want to and you can't really make me, you weak little midget," attitude from him at all.

It was the fifth such ride since winter ended and the horses went out on grass pasture full time. My pastures are lush enough that I don't have to supplement hay at all. They go out for 12 hours, come in for their evening meal and stay in for the night, and go out again in the morning. And Calypso...she's a freaking air fern. She's getting just about a handful of oats and pellets and she's still getting FAT. And I never, in my entire life, thought I'd own a fat Thoroughbred.

As I was riding last week and Gabe was so FABULOUS it suddenly hit me...he's been absolutely wonderful since they've been on grass and not getting any alfalfa at all. None. I feed a 95% alfalfa mix through the winter. They need the extra energy to stay warm and I'd rather have my horses come on the other end of winter fat rather than too thin.

Since I've had horses in Illinois I've always fed an alfalfa mix hay...usually mostly alfalfa with a few wisps of grass here and there. We live in an area that is heavy on the dairy cattle and so alfalfa is just what's most readily available and inexpensive...that's what I feed.

Because I've always fed alfalfa, I've also always discounted the belief that alfalfa makes horses silly and hot.

I'm rethinking that idea.

It didn't really hit me until after the last ride that Gabe was almost a completely different horse since being off the alfalfa. Quiet, workmanlike and willing, no matter what I asked of him. I'm not saying he's hot and crazy otherwise, just tends to behave a heavily on the "baby" side with the silliness and spooking and head flinging.

On the other hand, it could also be that they are out in a huge field for 12 hours a day and now he's having to constantly be on his guard and watching out for Chief and Calypso instead of just standing in his paddock quietly and alone. Seems they ALL do a lot more running and bucking in the pasture than they ever do in the paddocks.

So, who knows the root of the attitude change...could be one or the other, could be a little bit of both. Could be a bit of maturity finally entering his silly little boy brain.

But I do know one thing...when he's on and listening...he's HOLY WOW!!! I ride around the arena grinning from ear to ear and just so thrilled with every huge, powerful stride he takes. There is more than one moment that passes that I have to shake my head in amazement thinking that "Wow! He's MINE!"

Then cold terror rushes through me as I think about screwing up his training so bad that I ruin him forever.

But, the moment passes and I continue to grin like a mad woman.

I'm surprised I don't come back from the ride with gnats stuck in my teeth more often.