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 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."


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.