Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Horse crazy

When I look out at the muddy paddocks and mud-covered horses and slog around in that nasty, sucking mud to feed and break ice in troughs (my outdoor electrical hookup is on the fritz, grrrr), I wonder why the hell I continue to put myself through this every winter.

When nearly every other person in the world (sane, non-horse people) wakes up in the morning, they get ready for work, maybe have time for a hot cup of coffee and a quick read of the morning paper then off they go. I get up, make my horses their warm breakfast and go out into the cold and the mud and the ice and snow to take care of them before the sun even comes up. I get dressed twice in the morning: Once in my nasty barn clothes to feed, then again in my clean work clothes. Sometimes, I am jealous of those who board their horses, or those who don't have them at all. Especially on those extra cold, icy, windy, nasty mornings when I long for just another half an hour snuggled warm in my bed.

For three long cold months I'm lucky if I get to ride once a week. And that's only if the planets align and my world isn't a sucking bog of muddy nastiness. The cold I can dress for and ride in, the mud and ice are unforgiving. For three long, dark, cold months I worry about the hay. Will I run out? Do I have enough? Where can I get more? Will my checking account bear the burden of yet another load of hay? This year that stress is extra high because there is a hay shortage in our area. Everyone seems to have shipped their hay out of state to ranchers in states hit by drought. I look at my shrinking pile of hay and wonder why I continue to do this to myself every year. I look at my feed bill that grows every year and even more this year because I'm having to supplement hay with other sources of fiber (beet pulp and hay cubes). That stuff's not cheap, but it keeps my horses healthy and happy.

I wonder why I continue to do this when I have to go spend money I really don't have to repair a run-in shed so they'll have a warm, dry place to hide during the winter or buy a new water tank heater because the old one finally bit it.

It's usually at the times when I feel that I have gone completely over the edge into insanity for continuing to do this for a bunch of dumb animals that they somehow remind me why I do it. They remind me why I sacrifice for them, why we sometimes have to eat Ramen noodles and spaghetti or sandwiches so I can pay the farrier or buy the wormer or put another load of hay into the shed.

And they do it by just being who they are. Gabe does it when he nickers at me when I open the door spots me coming to the pasture. He does it when he follows me around just to keep tabs on what I'm doing and offer his sage advice when he doesn't think I'm fixing fence or repairing the run-in quite right. When Chief curls his neck up, flags his tail and pulls those knees high to prance around the pasture for no apparent reason, I am reminded. When I bury my nose in Gabe's neck and just breath him in or lean against Calypso to listen to her slurp up her breakfast while I think about the things weighing on me, I am reminded.

When I can spend an hour sitting outside to watch them graze quietly on a summer day or laugh at their early spring antics as they rip-snort and race around the fields, I am reminded.

Sure, life would be easier and my checking account significantly fatter if I didn't have them around. I might even be able to get away for an occasional weekend vacation if I didn't have to worry about finding someone (that I trust!) to take care of them.

But I know, even if things would be easier, I wouldn't be happier. There would be something integral and healing and necessary, missing in my life if I didn't have horses. They make my life so much better in so many big, and little, ways, and for that, I am beyond grateful.

Yeah, I'm a crazy horse lady.

And I'm okay with that.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Learning respect

I have managed to put a fairly sizable dent in the big man's belief that he's the boss of me.

There is definitely something to be said about good, solid groundwork that keeps a horse moving and thinking and constantly responding that gets their little equine minds working good and hard. Not only did I require him to use his brain quickly and frequently, the poor guy worked up a sweat and I wasn't asking him to do anything terribly strenuous!

We did lots of yielding the haunches, changing direction, backing away from me, halting as soon as I asking and popping over 12" crossrails with quick changes of direction after each little jump. Lots and lots and lots of lip-licking as well as him having "two eyes" on me the entire time. It took a bit of work to get him responding correctly, but once he figured it out, he was asking how far? How fast? Which way? each and every time I asked him to move his feet somewhere else. And most of the time, I never touched him...just pointed to where I wanted him to go, moved his haunches with my eyes and body posture and moved him backwards by lifting my hands and "marching" my arms. I asked him things in rapid succession to keep his brain working, then gave him a chance to stand and just think about it afterwards.


After 20 minutes of groundwork I got on and worked exclusively on him yielding his neck without moving his feet. "Control the body and you control the feet." He's never really understood just giving me his head/neck without moving his feet, a la' Clinton Anderson. This weekend, he finally got it. Sure, we did lots and lots and lots of little circles with me only releasing his face the instant his feet stopped moving. He threw a few fits because he didn't understand at first, but once he got it, he GOT IT and relaxed while he yielded his head and neck. Yay! More success! So, he's begun to really understand the lateral suppleness, relaxation and yielding...we'll work on that a bit longer before I start introducing longitudinal suppleness, relaxation and yielding. Bit by bit, body part by body part, we're putting it all back together and fixing some of the holes that I've found.

I wish I could work with him every day, but this danged fall/winter lack of sunlight and abundance of mud makes that a big of a challenge. Not to mention working and going to school at night. Ugh. Big outdoor lights, even a floodlight or two, would make my riding/training life so much simpler.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mr. Pushy Bites-A-Lot

After spending most of Saturday clearing the woods for a new fence (and a new pasture!), we didn't have a whole lot of daylight left to get to the groundwork I wanted to do. But, in spite of the quickly darkening day, my daughter and I pulled out our horses and managed to get about 20 minutes of work in.

Kayleigh (my 10-year-old daughter) has never done any kind of ground work with the horses before. She used Calypso for this new adventure and was quite thrilled with how responsive Calypso was to her. She had her backing up with the twitch of her lead rope, moving her haunches and shoulders easily just by motioning towards her and stopping on a dime. That mare was following her at a respectful distance and had her ears and eyes stuck to her the entire time, watching her every move and waiting for the next task.

The need to explain to Kayleigh WHY we were doing the things we were doing with the horses on the ground really helped cement my need to really work with Gabe on those basic fundamentals.

Calypso, while a very bossy lead mare in the pasture, really likes to have a strong leader in her person and responds very quickly and very well to even a tiny kid like Kayleigh. Kayleigh was thrilled to death and was having a lot of fun working with the mare. She said she can't wait to do it again!

Gabe, on the other hand, is easily bossed and moved around the pasture by Chief and Calypso but pushes me and other people around more than he should. I notice it with other people and get on his case about it, but as with most things, I was the last to notice he was doing it to me, too.

I never really realized how pushy he had become with me until I got him on the ground and started trying to move him around. Backing up was pretty much nonexistent when I asked him for it. Funny, considering backing up while in the saddle is our biggest safety issue - he does it when he decides he doesn't want to do something I've asked and he's dangerous about it. Instead of backing when I asked, he came towards me and nipped me more than a few times. He got smacked and backed hard and fast for biting. He kept moving into my space and trying to push me around. I can only surmise that the biting and the moving into my space was his way of telling me HE was the boss, not ME.

Which is a great big fat no go.

He refused to move his haunches or his shoulders over when I asked. That big fart stood there with his feet planted and completely ignored me. Ugh. I had to go to the stick to get him to move even a tiny bit. Hugely frustrating.

This is a different horse than he was when I first worked with him on the ground when I brought him home as a three year old. At three he was much more willing to let me be the leader and moved where I wanted him to. Which is why I never imagined I'd have these issues now.

Now, he's not so willing to let me be the leader. Somewhere along the line I've failed him, in his eyes, as a proper leader and he's felt the need to take over the role. Probably because I've let him get away with coming into my space and being pushy for the past year.

Re-establishing my leadership in this relationship is now a top priority. I'm just so frustrated with myself for letting it get this out of control and not even REALIZING it had gone as far as it's gone. UGH.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

And the conclusion is...

I like to believe I'm a "thinking rider." I do a lot of thinking about the ride, the horse, the training, the problems, both in and out of the saddle. Sometimes, I believe I do think too hard about it and make some things more difficult than they need to be.

I've been rolling last weekend's fit-throwing by Gabe over and over in my head: Did I handle it right? How could I have handled it better? What was going through his head? Why? How can I get him over this with the least amount of battling with him? Would he have pulled this crap if he trusted me more? How can I build his trust? Am I a strong enough leader or do I need to work on being stronger so he has more confidence in me as a leader?

See how that works? I'm driving myself crazy!

But, I have come to a conclusion. When I start adding up all the little things he does from time to time I've determined there is a lack of respect and trust in my leadership by him of me. That's something I will have to remedy.

And that means I'll be going back to groundwork with him for a while. I haven't done any kind of groundwork or ground driving with him for about a year and it's been about six months since he started noticeably trusting my judgement less and less. So, it's time to brush back up, get his butt OUT of my space and get him moving his body and feet in the direction I want them to move when I want them to move, not when and where he thinks they should move.

The timing is actually just about perfect. We are entering that time of year when my ground becomes more bog than dirt and makes riding rather sloppy. But it's fine for ground work for the most part.

No, I'm not going to stop riding to concentrate on groundwork, but I am going to fit groundwork in for every single session. He still needs as many wet and icky saddle pads as I can possibly muster up!

I think it will make a difference. I HOPE it will make a difference.

Monday, November 7, 2011

We have issues

Trail riding is definitely a training tattle-tale.

Just because your horse is as good as gold in the controlled environment of an arena does not necessarily mean your training is sticking and making the impression it should be.

Yes, Gabe has been absolutely wonderful in the arena, a nice, mostly-controlled environment where I can keep his attention mostly on me most of the time.

But take him out into a completely uncontrolled environment where anything can happen at any time and his attention often wanders from me and some pretty big training issues are revealed rather obviously.

A friend came over to go riding with me Sunday so all three horses got to go out. We were out for a couple of hours, the wind was HIGH, the air chilly, leaves flying all over the place and all the horses on high alert.

Gabe, for the most part, was pretty good. Aside from the cantering sideways issue (yeah, I don't know, it was weird) and absolutely refusing to respond to my lateral aids, he was fairly good. On high-alert and snorting at unknowns was the least of my worries with him. I can ride his silliness through without much problem and usually, I laugh at him just because he's being such a goof.

But two huge training issues revealed themselves and made me realize that perhaps, just maybe, I'm not expecting nor requiring enough of him. I admit, I let him get away with more than I probably should. ie, not making him give me the right response right away every time. I tend to make excuses for him and I need to quit that, right now.

The things I've let slide aren't obvious in the arena, but become glaring problems on the trail.

One big one is turning. Yes, a basic one, but a big one I didn't realize was quite the issue it is. Let's just say this horse is GREAT at yielding his neck, not so great at following through with the rest of his body when he doesn't really feel like it or isn't quite sure he wants to go where I want him to go. If he has decided he doesn't really want to go where I'm trying to get him to go, he'll turn his neck all day long in the direction I'm asking him to go but the body stays put. Ugh. Big time training issue that I'm going to have to really get fixed yesterday. No more excuses that he maybe doesn't quite understand what I'm asking, because he does, I know he does, he just decides he doesn't want to and that's NOT AN OPTION. Not on the trail. Not when going where I tell him to go RIGHT NOW is absolutely imperative in some situations.

Secondly is his forward. We have stop and back up perfected, actually, way more perfected than it needs to be because he's using both of them as ways to avoid doing what I've asked. Forward has become a huge issue. I fought with that horse for nearly 45 minutes to get him to even get close to a cow pasture filled with curious dairy cattle. Yes, the dairy cattle again. I'm tempted to borrow a small herd of dairy cattle and make him live in the same paddock as them for a few months. Passing those cows was an absolute disaster. I think at first the cows were the issue, so I let him stand and watch them for a few minutes and he seemed to be fine with them. The other horses didn't give a crap about the cows but Gabe didn't take their lead at all. It then became less about the cows and more about him deciding he was NOT going forward, period, end of story. It was backwards backwards backwards sideways sideways backwards circles backwards spinning more backwards, more sideways more stupid crap but NO FORWARD. UGH!!! I couldn't get him to take one little step forward for anything, and of course, I'd declined to bring the crop on this ride since I hadn't needed it in the arena for quite a while.

When I first brought him home forward was an issue then, too, but instead of going backwards, he went UP when he decided he didn't want to go forward. I fixed the up, he doesn't do that at all any more, but now when he has determined he doesn't want to do something, no matter what it is, he goes backwards, very quickly. It's hard to steer a horse going backwards, especially when that horse has decided he is NOT going forwards. And it's dangerous, very dangerous. I finally had to get off and force him forward and past the cows. He flipped his lid and I think I saw his brain slide right out of his head and smash on the ground. Even with me leading him and the other two horses marching along and sighing with boredom and I'm sure a bit of annoyance at him, he didn't want to go forward, so backwards and sideways he went, into a ditch and he lost his footing and fell. I'm glad I wasn't on him when he pulled that crap but I think it scared him straight. He got back up, the whites of his eyes showing and he marched forward when I led him on. No problem. We walked right past those cows without another problem. I wanted to take him back and forth by them a few more times, but my riding companions had already been plenty patient enough with us up to that point and I wasn't going to ask them to wait for our silly asses any longer.

I don't even want to talk about the absolute lack of his response to the lateral aids. I think I was just about ready to cry by the end of the ride because a simple trail ride had exposed all the basic training crap I need to put my nose to the grindstone on and quit accepting half-assed responses from him.

So, I'll be working on his forward response and expect an immediate and energetic forward response each and every time I ask as soon as I ask, no matter what. Until we get this down he no longer has the option of declining my request. Although it goes against everything I believe in training philosophy, I'm going to have to take away his voice until we get these very basic issues fixed. No more giving him second and third chances. The same thing for turning and lateral aids. No more second and third chances. He knows what I'm asking, it's time I start expecting and requiring him to respond when I ask, not when he feels like it.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Tell tails

The kids are fuzzy, furry and quite full of themselves lately.

Fall has definitely rolled into our little corner of the world. Vividly changing leaves, browning pastures, a chill wind and horses acting like they are all hopped up on a wee bit too much espresso.

I love it. Fall is my most favorite time of year to ride: No bugs, no excessive sweat, wiggly, energized horses and the smell of fall just can't be matched.

My daughter asked me the other day if horses use their tails like dogs to express how they are feeling.

I had to think about it for a minute or they? Can you tell if a horse is happy, sad, angry, excited or scared by the way they hold their tails? You can certainly tell if they are being bothered by bugs or cold, but other emotions?

My answer was a definite yes! Just that morning I'd paused for a while to watch my three goof balls tear around the pasture like a herd of wild beasts, tails flying. Gabe's tail is the most expressive of the three. When he's excited that tailed is held straight up high and curling over his rump, much like an Arab's. Calypso tends to lift hers a bit, but not anywhere near as exuberantly as Gabe lets his fly. And Chief's tail generally doesn't do a whole lot when he's galloping around, it just kind of follows him, but when he sees something or feels the need to snort at something "threatening," he arches his neck and that tail lifts pretty high.

When Gabe is mad at me - and yes, he does get mad at me - he expresses that through his eyes, his ears and his tail. I've never been a big fan of assigning human characteristics to my animals, but he definitely pouts when he thinks he's been done wrong or not treated the way his highness thinks he should have been treated - his tail just hangs there, all rejected and dejected looking. When he's being chased off by one of the other horses, that tail is tucked up pretty snugly against his butt.

So yeah, I would say that while they don't use their tails to express themselves quite as frequently as dogs so, horses do use them, too. All you have to do is watch. And what better way to spend a beautiful fall afternoon than watching your horses express themselves so delightfully?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Really?! REALLY?!

Gabe is a dork. Sometimes he just gets things into his head and no matter how much convincing, enticing, cajoling or begging I do, he just doesn't want to do it.

He has decided the trailer is a Very Scary Place and one that he should avoid at all costs. Which involved trying to run me over in the process of getting away from the Very Scary Place.

Ugh. This is the third time he's been a moron about loading. This has never been an issue before, and I KNOW the goof knows how to get on and off a trailer. But he's decided he doesn't really want to.

Over the weekend we worked for about 45 mins. on just getting on nicely and standing there quietly. It took me a good half hour on the front end of the training just to get him to get CLOSE to the trailer without losing his ever-lovin' mind and flying backwards across the yard.

Lots and lots and lots of strongly encouraged forward circles when he decided to fly backwards. It took a bit, but he finally figured out that going forward is MUCH more comfortable than going backwards, and getting on the trailer is MUCH MUCH more comfortable than endless go-forward circles in the yard.

Then he'd get on and decide it was still a Very Bad Place to be and go flying off the trailer backwards, the whites of his eyes showing panic.

*sigh* and *double sigh*

Oh, this horse. He's one of the special ones. Window-licking, helmet-wearing kind of special.

He finally figured it out and I was able to get him on and off five times, all nice and quiet and no panicking involved. He stood on the trailer, even cocked a leg at one point and relaxed, licked his lips, half-lidded his eyes then backed off very slowly and very quietly when asked, but not before.

Went for a ride, had an EXCELLENT ride, then loaded him up one more time after the ride just to make sure his little Thoroughbred brain hadn't lost the lesson in the half an hour we were riding.

He didn't. The trailer didn't even get an Oh-my-God! ear flick...up he walked, quietly he stood, peppermints he gobbled and quietly he backed off again.

Success. It comes in little doses, but each little step forward is a HUGE accomplishment for ole Gabe. The goof.

Next step: Closing the rear gate.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Riding at dusk

As the shorter days of fall and winter descend upon us I am trying to fit in as much riding time as is humanly possible. I love the weather this time of year, I just wish the daylight hours in the day would remain the same instead of shrinking!

All too soon it will be too dark to ride except on weekends. I was hoping to have a couple of lights up around my arena by this time, but that just hasn't happened. Hay is a priority and with it not exactly bursting from anyone's barn this year, it's a pricey priority and arena lights are on the back burner for the foreseeable future.

Kayleigh and I went for a ride last night and rode until the waning daylight made it impossible to see anything. She rode bareback and Chief was a champ.

I popped Gabe over a few small cross-rails before it became too dark to do it safely and he seemed to love it. His ears prick forward eagerly, his body compresses and his stride animates when I turn him towards the line and he realizes we are going to go over it, not around it. My goal this month: Get my jump standards and a couple of gates, brush boxes and coops built. I'm pretty sure I have enough extra lumber just laying around the property to build a few jumps without having to buy a thing. I'm excited to get an actual course up and I think he will be too.

I've been riding him in a running martingale for about a year because he had a nasty habit of tossing his head high enough to crack me in the face when he was up and feeling his oats. Last night, I didn't put it on. He tossed his head a couple of times and squealed in his girly way at the beginning of the ride, which is typical for him, then settled into the work with no major head tossing issues. Wonderful boy! I don't think I'll need to put it back on for arena work any more, galloping and full course jumping maybe, but I'll cross that bridge when we get there.

I have definitely noticed how all my hard work out of the saddle has affected my time in the saddle. I've lost 40 pounds and gained strength. I'm jogging about 3 miles 5-6 days a week and lifting weights. I don't have the six pack yet, right now I'm just pleased to be able to see a two pack! I feel wonderful and feel so solid, balanced and strong in the saddle. Gabe has definitely noticed too, not just the weight loss, but the ability to better balance and control my own body seems to give him confidence. Being in control of ME gives him the chance to balance himself and not have to worry about me throwing him off.

I have many more pounds and miles to go, but I'm on a roll and I don't intend on stopping any time soon. My goal? Not only feel good and confident in the saddle, but look damn good in a pair of white breeches! Ha! And find that six pack that's hidden under there somewhere.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Going somewhere? Not any time soon, apparently

Oh, we have a problem. It's one of those fun problems all horse owners LOVE to deal with and figure out how to solve.

Gabe has decided he doesn't like to get on the horse trailer. Period. He has always jumped right up and I know he had plenty of trailering experience while he raced, so this decision of his boggles me.

Saturday one of my riding buddies came over to pick us up so we could haul to a park to ride. Gabe has not had an issue with her trailer in the past and really seems to like her mare.

But this time, he took one look at that trailer and one look at the cute palomino mare waiting for him inside and pretty much said "Nope. Not today. I've better things to do."

Gah. I don't have a whole lot of patience for horses I KNOW know how to load and then simply decide they don't want to today. He and I apparently can both be pretty stubborn in out decisions. I don't believe in beating them until they decide to get on, but I can get exasperated and all him ugly names and tell him how dumb he is.

It took 15 minutes to convince him to get on the trailer to haul out and all it took was me slowing down and giving him some time to think it over instead of continuously walking him back up to the trailer and trying to convince him to put his feet on it over and over and over again.

All he wanted to do was stand there and think about it for awhile. Bribery didn't hurt.

He got on, we went on a wonderful, beautiful, fall colors gorgeous trail ride in which he behaved brilliantly.

Until it was time to get BACK on the trailer.

Yeah. Nope.

It took us even longer this time. He'd get three feet on and stand there all stretched out reaching for the grain I had in my hand. And just stand there. And stand. Then take a calm step backward when he changed his mind about it. Grrrr....patience was wearing thin but I wasn't going to beat him onto the trailer. That solves nothing and make the next time even worse.

So we waiting. And we waited. And I cajoled and bribed and called him horrible names and threatened to leave him in the woods all alone without dinner or peppermints.

Eventually, he sighed, and stepped all the way on the trailer. I guess he'd had enough.

So, guess what I'll be working on as much as possible?

Yeah. That trailer loading thing. Seems someone needs a reminder seminar.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Momma, I got the itchies

Gabe bit me on the leg this weekend.

Hard, right on the shin. And I reacted fast and popped him in the nose with my crop. How the heck did he get my shin, you may ask. Well, simple, actually. He reached his head around during our ride and bit me.

But I don't think he actually meant to bite me, I think he meant to bite himself. Strange? Maybe. We were out on a trail ride for about an hour, he was hot and sweaty and once he started getting sweaty he started reaching his head around to bite/itch his side right where the girth sits. It was really, really agitating him and was very distracting for him. I imagine it was driving him a little bit crazy which is why he got me instead of himself.

I don't know what is causing the itchiness, but I think I might have an idea. I use a fleece girth cover because his skin is so sensitive that if I don't the leather rubs him the wrong way and he hates it. I had JUST washed the fleece cover and for the first time ever used bleach on it. It was NASTY, it had to be done! Bleach is the only difference so I'm thinking his ultra-sensitive skin + freshly washed with bleach fleece cover + sweat = MISERABLE HORSE.

I'll be washing that cover again, without bleach this time and maybe even send it through the rinse cycle twice. Poor guy. It's got to be tough being such a sensitive guy!

Well, Chief is officially retired (semi-retired any way). We rode last night and Kayleigh got on Chief for the first time in over a month. He refused to trot and when he did trot he laid his ears flat back and bucked. He refused to step over a 12" jump and refused and refused and bucked until he was permitted to just slowly walk over it. He's NEVER bucked and never reacted like that to a request to trot or go over a small jump. I think he's really feeling that arthritis and it's time to retire him to just long, slow trail rides. No more trotting, no more jumping. Just slow, easy stuff to keep him moving. He does need to lose some weight and get more fit, and I told Kayleigh that will be her job, to get him fit with long, slow, easy rides because his joints will be much, much more comfortable if he uses them and is carrying less weight on them.

It sucks when your horses start to get old and creaky. Chief is 25 now, he'll be 26 in January. He deserves his retirement and has definitely earned it. I'll be keeping a close, close eye on him this winter. If the cold and the ice and the mud prove to be too much for him and he's in pain we can't control with Bute, we may have to make a tough, tough decision that I don't even want to have to think about.

Monday, August 22, 2011


I have to remind myself that although the sweltering, icky, yucky, horrible hot SUCKS....

The alternative is worse:

Because while hot is hot is hot, cold is just MISERABLE and a whole lot more work to deal with. Cold toes, cold nose, frozen horses, frozen mud holes, ice, more ice, snow...brrrrr....

Nope. I'm not ready for winter yet. I know I should be getting ready and get that hay shed filled, but it's an admission that winter, yes, it's coming.

And it can take its own sweet time for all I care. Fall, on the other hand, I am ready for fall!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dairy cattle eat horses with a butter knife

I took Calypso "around the block" last night. Around the block in my neighborhood is just about a four mile trip. We walked, mostly. We did some standing and staring a bit too. By the time we returned home she was huffing and sweating.

Poor, fat, out-of-shape mare. Need to work on that.

She's always been pretty good going out by herself, a little squirrely sometimes but for the most part, very good. When she does get silly or spooky she doesn't worry me as much as Gabe does simply because she is spooky in a different way. While Gabe spins and tries to run away very fast from the scary thing, Calypso stands, stares, her eyes bug out of her head and she absolutely refuses to move forward. Which is much easier to deal with than a spinning, freaking out 16+ hh Thoroughbred!

Sometimes it's a hidden propane tank that gets her bugged-eyed. Other times it's just a piece of trash blowing in the wind.

Last night it was cows. And a Gator. At the same time. Oh, my!

To get where we were going we needed to walk between a pasture full of very curious dairy cattle and a Gator sitting on the road, idling. On the other side of the road near the Gator is a Big Scary Hole that has water falling into it. Calypso was pretty sure there were giant, slimy serpents in it waiting for her to become a tasty meal. Scary stuff on it's own, but add in the fact that the cattle had JUST been milked and were feeling their oats and being particularly curious about us and it's a horsey nightmare.

Visualize, if you will, a herd of black-and-white, full-grown cattle, running full bore straight towards you. Some of them were bucking, which I find hilarious. Dairy cattle are not athletic enough to perform a good PBR buck.

Calypso didn't find it nearly as hilarious as I did. So she stood, bugged eyed and trying to move as stealthily sideways as possible while avoiding the Gator and the Big Scary Hole With Slimy Serpents. As if moving slowly would take the attention off her and she could sneak away from the whole dang mess.

With some time, patience and much reassurance from me she finally decided it was safe enough to brave the cattle and the Gator and the Big Scary Hole With Slimy Serpents all at the same time and she was marvelous. The rest of the ride was pretty Speedy Gonzales-like as she was rushy-rushy being by herself, but I let her take the pace she felt like taking as long as she didn't break into a trot or suddenly refuse to go forward. It's been quite a while since she's been out on a long ride by herself and I decided just letting her figure out she wouldn't die while alone was good enough for this ride. About 3/4 of a mile of our ride is along a two-lane 55 mph road. Usually there isn't much traffic along that road and last night was no different. The trucks that did blow by us were pretty loud and she didn't flinch a single muscle or even twitch an ear, just kept Speedy Gonzales-ing it right along.

Such a good mare, but I definitely need to get her out on her own more often. She's quiet, but she needs to be dead quiet and damn near bomb-proof. And I need to get her more fit. Poor, fat mare. Bad owner to let her get fat!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The monsters are REAL!

A pair of deer tried to murder me.

And Gabe was absolutely convinced they would succeed in killing both of us.

Have you ever heard deer running through a cornfield? They are LOUD and scary. Especially if you're a horse who is convinced the world would like to roast you on a skewer.

He was being fabulous during our ride (yay! I'm able to ride again! My heart is happy.), quiet and responsive and just GOOD. I think he was having fun and I was actually succeeding at keeping him busy enough to keep his brain working and engaged.

Then, during our cool-down on the buckle, I heard it. Something was crashing through the cornfield right next to the arena. I felt him tense. And beneath my leg I could actually feel his heart pick up and really start pounding hard. I grabbed mane (thank goodness I haven't pulled it yet, there's a LOT there) and prepared for the worst because I knew he was going to explode and there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it while the crashing in the cornfield was going on.

Chief and Calypso didn't help matters much, either. They both heard it, and being free, decided to go ape-shit bananas in the paddock next to us.

Oh Boy.

I've never actually ridden a tornado, but I'm pretty sure what Gabe offered up for me to stick to last night came pretty close. No bucking, just spinning and darting, a little bit of rearing when I refused to let him run away quickly, and quite a bit of sideways scurrying, neck arching and snorting.

It only last a few seconds, maybe even a whole minute, but it felt like forever.

The deer finally finished their mad scramble through the corn and ended up coming out not too far from where we were riding. I don't think Gabe spotted them, if he had, he may have wet himself a little bit. I saw them though before they tore off up along the edge of the field away from us. Two of 'em, looked like a doe and an older fawn.

But what impressed me the most was how quickly he quieted after the cornfield crashing stopped. He didn't dump me and it was over as soon as it began. Four trips around the arena on a loose rein then out to hit the driveway and a few trails as a final cool down. He was good, looking at everything but not reacting, walking nicely and not prancing or snorting. His back felt soft and swaying and he dropped his neck, sighed deeply and marched forward.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Green, green and more green

My pastures look fabulous. Fabulously fabulous, actually. Thick and green and...well, surprisingly nice considering the heat and lack of rain.

What IS that grass that the horses nor heat nor lack of water can seem to kill? Not orchardgrass, not brome, not fescue, not Bermuda nor Johnsongrass. Those I knew. And this was none of those.

I had no idea what this stuff greening up quickly and beautifully in my pastures was. The horses seemed pleased with it, but still, what was it?

So, I checked it out. Examined the leaves, the stem, the growth pattern, found a few stalks that had started seed heads.

Still no idea so a Googling I went.

And...the verdict?

It's crabgrass. All over the place the crabgrass is running rampant, defying the lack of water, thriving in the heat and standing up to horse hooves daily.

At first, I panicked. Oh. Crap. We've all heard that crabgrass is bad bad bad! GET RID OF IT! It's a horrible weed and no self-respecting homeowner would be caught dead with as much crabgrass as I have. I kind of like it, though. While the other grasses in my lawn are brown and crunchy and dormant, the crabgrass thrives and is a beautiful shade of green and when it's mowed, it's thick and springy and soft on bare feet.

Well, yes and no. I researched and researched and researched. Is it bad for my horses? Because honestly, I can't afford to have all my pastures tilled and replanted just to have the crabgrass move back in again.

I learned something fabulous! Apparently, only those living in subdivisions who desire a beautifully, perfectly manicured lawn hate it and go to great lengths to get rid of it. Farmers love it. Many plant it for their cattle as it's highly nutritious and a great producer. It's excellent for horses, too. It's a bit more fibrous than other grasses, which is actually GOOD for horse guts, so it's not something they'll choose over say, clover or brome, but it's not inedible or nasty, either. But the good thing is is it's a later season grass, so all my other grasses (the orchardgrass, brome, clover and fescue) come up early in the season and go dormant when it gets hot and dry. The crabgrass THRIVES in the heat.

Given it's tolerance of heat, drought and heavy traffic, I'll keep it and be grateful for it. The only downside is it's an annual so I have to let it grow up nice and tall and go to seed this fall so I'll have more this spring. I hate letting the grass get that tall, it's hard to mow later!

Friday, August 12, 2011

The boys are nuts

I'm loving this cooler weather. LOVE IT! A whole lot unusual for early August 'round these parts, but I will NOT complain! When I wake up in the morning there's a slight chill to the air and I've had the AC off since early this week (my electric bill will thank me, I'm sure).

The horses seem to be perking back up with the chillier evenings and cool mornings. They were drag-ass exhausted and just absolutely beat during that month of 100+ temps. I've never seen three horses drag their hooves as much as my three did when the temps soared. Poor beasts.

I jumped on Calypso for a little "work the fat off your butt" exercise and she was spunkier than she has been all summer. We started out with her pulling on the bridle and READY TO GO! But she settled quickly into the work and even let me know a few times she wasn't terribly enthusiastic about an actual nose-to-the-grindstone workout. Trot? No thanks. I don't think I want to trot. I'll just walk a little faster. I didn't work her too hard, 15 total minutes of trotting and circles to work on her neck reining sensitivity and reaction time, then 20 minutes of walking the arena, halting, backing, lateral work and a cool-off walk down the driveway and along the corn field at dusk.

I forgot to shut the gate to the pasture to lock the boys in the paddock when I took her down the driveway and of course, as they usually do when I fail to contain them properly, the boys came rip-roaring screaming into the pasture after her, raising a ruckus, hauling ass around the pasture and acting like their tails were on fire. You'd think I was taking away their girlfriend or something. Oh. Wait. I was! HA!

Goof balls.

I was a bit worried that they'd get her all worked up and I'd have more than just a nice cool-down walk on my hands. But no, the mare was perfect. Head down, loose rein, walking nicely forward without even flicking her ears at the nincompoops in the pasture next to her. So pleased with her! Such a good girl.

Her feet were ouchy and gimpy on the driveway, but fine on the grass. That mare has the thinnest soles on the planet...damned QH inbreeding issues. Guess I need to pick up some Durasole and really work on toughening her soles up before winter rolls around again. I don't like to keep shoes on unless I absolutely have to, and as long as she's not on gravel/rock, she's fine. But the frozen ground hurts her feet too, and it's a double-edged sword. If I put shoes on her to protect her soles from the frozen ground she ends up spending the winter skating around her frozen paddock (there's usually a nice layer of ice over everything) on a pair of steel skates. So, Durasole it is. What a pain.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Nearly disastrous

As I called Gabe in from the pasture and slipped the halter on, I realized I haven't ridden for over a month.

A long, long month of unbearable, debilitating and dangerous heat. A month of bugs so bad nothing seemed to work to keep them off my horses. After too much money and few discernible results, we finally did find something that has worked and is working well. And is far, far cheaper than the $20 bottles of horse-specific fly spray. A concentrate of 10% permethrin, made for all varieties of livestock: $8 a bottle. One bottle makes about 12 gallons and it WORKS! Not just for a few minutes, but for 2-3 days at a time. It stinks like crazy and probably isn't the gentlest stuff on their coats, but they are nearly 100% bug free all day and all night. It doesn't work very well on those fist-sized horse flies, but really, does anything but a flyswatter?

He was filthy. His greyish-silver coat streaked with dried sweat and brownish dirt came clean with significant elbow grease and about 45 minutes. I found dried blood in his tail which I can only surmise came from the crater-sized holes left in his hide by those nasty, horrible, good-for-nothing green and black horse flies. A pox on them.

He seemed happy to be messed with and stood relaxed while I scrubbed and flicked the dirt away. He is losing his summer coat time flies.

The girth tightened one hole larger than a month ago and the running martingale seemed to fit his chest a bit more snugly. Seems Mr. Gabe has put on some weight despite the heat. I guess 12+ hours a day on thick, lush pasture will do that for ya!

Our ride very nearly ended in disaster before it began. Bad disaster.

Unknown to me, during the month-long hiatus from riding a swarm of wasps took up residence in my mounting block.

A BIG swarm.

I climbed onto the mounting block, pulled Gabe up near it so I could get on and noticed what I thought was about 6 big horse flies swarming his head. I swatted at them and suddenly realized they were NOT horse flies. They were wasps.

Just as this realization hit me about 20 more flew out from beneath the mounting block and swarmed me and Gabe in a buzzing, terrifying cloud. Have I mentioned that I tend to have a very bad reaction to bee and wasp stings? So, not only was I terrified my horse would get stung and freak the hell out and kill me in his freaking out process, I was terrified I'd get stung and have a reaction when no one was home and knew no one would be home any time in the foreseeable future. I briefly wondered how long it would be before someone found my body or figured out things weren't quite right at the ole homestead.

A moment of I mount and get the hell out of there and risk one or both of us getting stung or do I jump off the block and get the hell out of there and risk the same thing?

I chose the former, jumped on quickly and booted Gabe away from the block before I could even get my feet in the stirrups. Completely opposite of what I usually do and I think he was confused as I usually make him stand there for a couple of minutes before moving away. There is nothing more annoying and dangerous than a horse who won't stand still so the rider can climb aboard safely.

We escaped without either one of us getting stung but my heart was pounding and kicking him off the block so quickly (and rudely I'm afraid) had Gabe wound up for the rest of the ride. He was good, but ready to go and full of himself, especially near the Corner of Absolute Doom, Death and Destruction. It must have been particularly packed with horse-eating monsters last night because he wouldn't get near it and boot-scooted across the arena every time we came close to it.


Monday, August 8, 2011

The girl child would rather "yee haw!" than "tally ho!"

The girl-child has been in Northern California for the past three weeks visiting my mom, stepdad, and sister and cousin. She's been living it up, trail riding, hiking, camping, etc., etc.

And apparently, riding up and down the mountains on mom's trusty mare, Rock. In a western saddle. As a result, the child has informed me no more than four times now that she wants to ride western rather than English, because it's "easier." Which is kind of funny, actually, because we went to our county fair on Friday and watched pole bending and barrel racing and my significant other commented about how much he thought Kayleigh would kick ass riding Calypso at speed events.

She is a little daredevil, just like her mom, and Calypso would probably thrive as a speed event pony. And while I'm an English girl through and through, (western saddles make me feel trapped...there's far, far too much leather between me and my horse and all around me for my taste), and would really like it if she and I went to horse shows and the occasional fox hunt together, I suppose if my kiddo wants to ride western I'll do what I can to make that happen.

However, I have no western saddle for the child to use. I have a buttload of English saddles, and one teeny tiny little western saddle. But none that will fit her or her horse. Guess I need to start going to auctions again (which is always a bad idea for me! I come home with more than I really need) or perusing eBay and Craigslist to see what I can find for her. I guess that's what I get for selling off the only larger-sized western saddle I owned. Ugh! Oh well.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

While we swelter...

We've been under an excessive heat warning for almost a month, here, in the Midwest. Heat indexes between 105 and 115 many days. It's too damned miserable to do any kind of riding. My only goal for the past few weeks has been keeping the horses as cool and healthy as possible in this miserable crap. It hasn't been easy. Gabe will stand for hours in the sprinkler, but Chief and Calypso want nothing to do with it and prefer to stand in the sun practically panting and dripping sweat.

The only thing I can do is keep their water cool, hose them off and do as much as I can to keep the horrible, horrible bugs away.

In the meantime, my kid is waaay out west enjoying lots of California sunshine, (hot, but not humid. What a world of difference that makes!) mountains, trail riding and camping with her Nana, aunt and cousin!

See what the kid has been up to!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Gabe says...

So I was out in the pasture with my buds, having a good ole time...

Rolling in the mud, swishing at flies, chomping on green grass. Then, mom came out and said it was time to go to work.

She called me a filthy pig! Can you believe it? I get a little mud on me and she calls me names. So mean. She brushed and brushed and brushed and got most of the mud off then said I looked like a ragamuffin, an unwanted street urchin. Humpf. So maybe I need a haircut. So what?

Then she broke out the dumb hat. She says it makes me looks handsome. I think it makes me look like a dork. Or an Arab. I can't decide which is worse. Plus it keeps those horrible, painful deer flies off me. I like that part.

But Calypso and Chief snicker from the paddock and taunt me: "Your momma dresses you funny!"
They are not nice.

I mean, come on, mom, purple fringe and BEADS? Really? I'm a BOY!

Sooo embarassed. I can't even tell you.

We went for a ride and mom said I was GREAT! I was too mortified by the hat to call any attention to myself so I just did as I was told. Figured she was using the purple bead hat as some sort of cruel and unusual punishment for that last time I jumped around, acted like a yearling and tried to put her butt on the ground.

Apparently she wasn't kidding when she called me a filthy pig. I got the bubble bath treatment and everything. My tail is white again. But baths? Really? They are for the birds. No thanks!

At least she didn't make me get a haircut.

This time.

The best thing about working hard and bubble baths? Mom always lets me munch on the good clover-y grass after she's done fussing over me. Don't tell anyone, but I kinda like it. The fussing part, that is. I always like grass. Always!

She says I'm too fat. I prefer to think of myself as comfortably plump. That grass is goooood stuff!

She even trusts me enough now that she lets me wander around the yard while she puts all our stuff away. I'm a good boy that way. Besides, the grass and clover is best here.

And I know she has at least one more peppermint waiting for me in her pocket.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Spins...sans saddle

I'm a wee bit sore today.

Okay, maybe more than a wee bit. My inner thighs and my (ahem) girly bits are killin' me! I'll bet you're just dying to know why!

I rode Calypso bareback. Yes, yes I did. She was great, but she's bouncy and round like a barrel and damn, that spine, I swear it's constructed from a sheet of corrugated steel. OW! And to imagine I used to ride bareback all the time. Saddles were for wusses, bareback was where it was at. It was actually quite fun to be aboard bareback again, and apparently, judging from the soreness in my inner thighs, I need to do it more often.

Anyway, the mare was fabulous. Aside from the head-in-the-air thing that I'm slowly working on correcting, she was good. When she relaxes, slows the trot and rocks back just a tad onto her hindquarters, the head naturally comes down and the ride gets smoother. Little bit by little bit she's understanding that it IS more comfortable for her (and me!) to stretch that neck long and low and let her back relax so it's sproingy and rounded rather than horribly rigid and hollow. We'll get there, I'm in no hurry and forcing her into it isn't going to fix the overall "bad" way she carries herself at the trot.

She is so, so sensitive that sometimes she over-reacts when I ask for something from her. I was polishing up her neck reining response since I've been riding her with a direct (English) rein for several years.

Seems she didn't need much of a tune-up at all in that respect. I pressed the rein to her neck, nudged her with the outside leg and she sat back and practically did a 180. I'm pretty sure mane flew she turned so fast. Of course, being bareback and entirely unprepared for such a quick response I very nearly ended up on the ground, as it was, I ended up clinging to her side and grabbing mane! How very humiliating. I'm glad no one was watching.

Lesson learned...light touches with the rein for gentle, easy turns and NO leg, just a little seat. Of course, once I figured out how responsive she was feeling I played with it a little bit. But that's just me. Half-halt, outside leg nudge...SPINN!!!! WHEE! Half-halt, outside leg nudge...SPIIINNN!!!! WOOO HOOO!!! She's fun. And I didn't go sliding off the side when I was prepared for it. Hehehe! We spin in slo-mo at the moment as she isn't muscled and fit enough to do anything really fast, but we'll get there. Her lateral movement is right on, her halts are beautiful. She responds very, very well to voice commands, which is always a bonus. The louder you say "whoa!" the faster she stops.

I like to play when the horses have fun "buttons" on 'em. Chief's fun "button" is an almost piaffe. He's not perfect at it, but he can do it if asked nicely, and he can canter so, so slow there is very little forward movement. It's a ton of fun to ride.

Gabe doesn't have a fun "button" quite yet, but I'll figure one out. Maybe the Spanish Walk, just for the heck of it? I dunno yet. He already lifts those front legs pretty well if I tap the top fronts of them and he seems to have fun with it. It's a game to him. We'll start with it in hand, then, if he seems to enjoy it, maybe we'll try it in the saddle...later. We have the basics to perfect first.

Friday, June 24, 2011

1...2...3...4...5.......good boy!

I'm always looking for new or different ways to train that are a little different than the methods I currently employ. I do a lot of reading and talking to trainers and friends about many, many different issues and I'm always willing to give a new way a try if I think it has merit.

The thing is, there is more than one way to train a horse, more than one method to get from point A to point B. Sometimes you have to go around the block a few times before you find the path that works best for your particular situation.

Not all horses learn the same way and a good trainer adjusts her methods to achieve the same outcome.

I've been having one heck of a time getting Gabe to understand lateral movement. He kinda gets it, but not really. Sometimes it clicks and he makes a wee effort to move sideways. Sort of. It's more like a snake trying to tie itself in a knot than actual correct lateral movement. Other times I just get his ears flicking back at me like he's asking "what the hell? Quit wiggling around up there," while he continues to march forward in a workmanlike effort.

Last night I tried something new with him and I admit I was not very convinced it would be successful.

Imagine my surprise, an utter delight, when it didn't take long at all for him to have his light bulb "AH HA! I GET IT!" moment.

I didn't change the way I ask. I didn't change what I expected from him.

I merely counted to ten.

Yup. I counted. That's it.

I'd ask for the movement, he'd give an effort in the correct direction and I'd halt him and count to ten, praise, walk on.

It only took four times in each direction of asking, counting, praising and walking on before he was practically flinging his body sideways CORRECTLY when I asked, every time.

Some horses just need that moment of reflection to connect the dots in their brains. Gabe appears to be one of those who needs some time for quiet reflection before they make the connection between what I'm asking and how to respond. And I'm perfectly okay with that. If he needs time to think about it, I'll give him the time he needs. The less confusion on his part, the happier he'll be and the more willingly he will give an honest effort to try new things.

We worked on the lateral movement for probably 20 minutes then I called it done and we moved on to canter departs on the correct lead. I'm pleased to say he was absolutely wonderful. We had a few silly moments of his typical head-tossing, squealing and trying to play, but other than that, I couldn't have planned a better ride.

We did a short trail ride to cool down, the wind was blowing through the knee-high corn, rattling it, and he didn't even flick an ear towards it. Last year, he blew up at the rattling corn and gave it the evil eye like he was waiting for it to devour him whole. Last night a small covey of quail flew up under his nose from the tall grass and they startled him but didn't cause a frenzied reaction like they would have last year. I think they startled me more than they bothered him.

My big baby is growing up. I'm so proud!

Monday, June 20, 2011

On beatings, bruises and blackwater blues

Funny how sometimes it seems the world conspires against you when all you want to do is ride.

I didn't get to take Gabe out this weekend: Torrential downpours have most of the region under water and Gabe, unfortunately, was in no condition for any kind of riding.

Calypso went on a tear...again...and beat the holy hell out of him. She did this around this time last year too — gets him cornered and just lays into him without mercy. He was body sore, big time, cuts and abrasions on both sides of his body, bumps and contusions from neck to rump. I couldn't run my hand over him without him flinching. Everything got checked, cleaned and medicated and he spent the next couple of days on bute to alleviate some of the pain and inflammation.

That mare, while sweet and loveable to people, can be such a bitch to the geldings. She beats Chief up from time to time, but never as badly as she pounds on Gabe. I think it's probably because while Chief will take a bit of it, he does fight back when she crosses his line. Gabe does not, ever. Instead of raising a hoof to her he tries to get away. He does not like conflict, period, and is perfectly content with just staying out of her way to avoid her wrath, but when she corners him and he can't get away, she is heartless.

Again, as I did last year, I am considering separating the geldings from the mare during turnout and see how those two do together. Every time Chief lays into Gabe it seems that Calypso was the cause, one way or another...two boys fighting over a girl is basically what it amounts to. High school drama drama drama.

So, no riding Gabe this weekend. Some of the contusions were situated right where the saddle would be or where my legs would bump his sides.

Sunday rolls around and I thought, well, I'll just take Calypso out instead, apparently she needs a few soaking wet saddle pads any way. Nothing like a good workout for a solid attitude adjustment.

Again, torrential downpours over night which added to an already saturated and flooded region. It poured enough that my basement flooded and muddy water overflowed into the sparkling clean swimming pool. That's a lot of freaking rain. *sigh* Once again, no riding for me. The day was spent cleaning the basement then mowing the yard that had, in a week's time, grown at least 8 inches. Welcome to the jungle, baby! The hot, humid, wet, everything-is-molding or mildewed jungle. My poor, poor tack is growing green fuzz and I can't keep up with the growth rate! Is there anything out there that inhibits mold/mildew growth on leather? I can use some suggestions!

On the bright side the pastures are verdant and thick and absolutely beautiful...too bad the horses can't enjoy the lushness because the fields are FREAKING SWAMPS!!!! I'm thinking rice paddies might be a good investment.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Got guns?

I rode Gabe last night and he was his wonderful self: No soreness and wonderfully forward, obedient and eager to please. What a pleasant, pleasant ride. We worked on spiraling in and spiraling out on a circle and he finally GETS IT! YAY! Of course, he goes stiffer tracking to the right than the left, but I expected that and worked him on it.

The people who own the land next door to mine were out doing some target shooting and making all kinds of noise walking through the woods, talking and shooting.

And it didn't phase him one bit. He was unusually focused on me for this ride which was a good thing.

The shooting doesn't phase any of the horses a bit. The shotgun or rifle can be fired near their pastures and none of them flinch. They just don't care.

Some of you may remember back in early spring when I was hem-hawing about whether to sell Calypso and my daughter said she wanted to ride her so I decided to keep the mare and give the kid the chance to ride her.

Well, she hasn't been riding much at all. The weather hasn't exactly been fabulous and I haven't been riding a whole lot either for the same reason. However, the times I have had the chance to ride and asked her to come along, she's declined about half the time.

So, Calypso needs a new job. She's young, she's dead quiet, she's level-headed, willing, obedient, brave and easily trainable. I've determined she'll just never make a very good English horse. She can jump, but not well, her gaits aren't the prettiest to watch, but she gets the job done. She has cutting QH breeding and you can really see that aspect of her athleticism come out when she's out in the pasture just playing around. That little mare can MOVE and when she's moves, she moves fast, low and powerfully with everything she has loaded into that back end and that front end free to do some serious maneuvering.

I really don't want to sell her. She's a nice, nice mare. No, not show quality, but a really level-headed horse that I can put anyone on and trust her.

When I started riding as a young'un I rode my pony Western. Well, I started riding her bareback because we didn't have a saddle right away. Then my first saddle was a western one and we did speed events, trail classes, pleasure classes and some showmanship. The speed events were a BLAST!

I've been tossing around in my head what I could do with this mare that would be fun, maybe a little different from what I usually do and right up her alley. I've been to a couple of Cowboy Mounted Shooting events in St. Louis and every time I've gone I've thought "WOW! That would be an absolute BLAST! Too bad I don't have a horse quiet and sane enough to do it." One of the bailiffs I used to work with at the courthouse did the competitions and he absolutely loved it, we talked about mounted shooting and horses and training them for mounted shooting every time we got the chance.

Okay, so maybe that's a lot more than a "little different" from what I usually do, but dangit, I want to try it and I will. If I hate it, I hate it, but at least I can say I tried.

I think Calypso would be a darn fine mounted shooting horse. Don't worry, I'm not going to run out and start shooting off her tomorrow or next week...I'm going to step back her training and take all the English aspects out of what I do with her. Tune up and fine tune her neck reining, work on that too fast trot and start some slow speed work around poles and barrels with her (slow speed work...that's an oxymoron!) to work on her handiness and responsiveness and build the necessary muscles. I guess I need to start visiting some tack auctions and find a decent western saddle. I'm going to take the bit out of her face and try her in a hackamore...she has always seemed happiest when I just ride her with a halter and rope anyway, she might do fabulous in a hackamore...we'll see. At this point, I'm game for just about anything with her, and as long as she's having fun, that's all that matters.

When I'm ready to start the mounted shooting part I'll find someone locally who does it (or tap the knowledge of my bailiff friend) to glean some advice/tips and help.

A little more about Cowboy Mounted Shooting. How fun does that look/sound? Tell me you're not intrigued!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Teen Me vs. Grown-up Responsible Me

My kid is going to be gone for the next few weeks, of course, it's during a time when the mud is finally drying up and the weather is decent again. We have been planning for months to take Chief and Gabe out to a nearby horse campground/park/trails and spend an entire day and evening riding, grilling lunch and just having a good day.

This weekend would have been perfect except for one thing: She's going to be at her dad's. I still want to go and take advantage of this lovely weather but I have a conundrum: I'm a wee bit wary of taking Gabe to a brand new place out in the middle of nowhere alone.

The teenage horse fanatic in me says "Screw it! Just go and have a blast!" because that's the kind of fearless, care-free, give-a-damn rider I was in my teen years and early 20s.

However, the more mature, responsible me is saying "Well, I don't know if that's a very wise thing to do. It could be dangerous. What if you get dumped? What if he's horrible, ditches your ass and runs away? What if...what if...what if...?"

Ugh. I've had next-to-impossible luck with trying to arrange having friends go riding with me (horse friends). Everyone always seems to be busy on the best days to ride and don't want to go or can't go.

I just don't know what to do. Go? Stay? Ride at home instead? That big guy needs more miles under his girth, miles that are far away from home with all kinds of new views, new sounds, new surroundings.

I guess I'll just have to make that decision Saturday when I get up in the morning and see how brave/foolish/carefree I'm feeling.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Stand there and take it, you big chicken

After last week's peacock incident with the Big Man I decided a bit of peacock de-sensitizing was in order.

Gabe was none to pleased with me at first. He was pretty darn sure I was the one who had lost my ever-loving mind when I forced him to stand nicely while Mr. 1,000 Eyes Horse-Eater was in full strut and screaming for his girlfriends less than 20 feet away.

At first I was horrible and terrible and wicked mean for making him stand and just watch that peacock get closer and closer. I was even more horrible when I encouraged him to take a few steps towards the peacock as Mr. Peacock has his back towards us and was strutting away. He jumped sideways, blew hard at him, showed him the whites of his eyes the tried to climb into my pocket.

I told him what a nut he is for being terrified of a stinkin' BIRD. A BIRD! He didn't believe me and tried to push me to the front so I'd be the first one devoured and he'd have time to haul ass away.

So we stood and watched the peacock strut around and scream and I fed Gabe treats every time he'd stand nicely without wiggle-worming around trying to make the mind-blowing experience as pleasant as possible. Of course, I talked to him and called him many names: Moron, Goof-ball, Chickenshit, Pansy, Nutcase, Half-Wit, Goober and Peabrain...all in my sweetest most comforting voice possible.

Half an hour or so later the peacock was No Big Thing any more. Gabe gave him a bit of an OH MY GOD! glance when the bird lowered his massive plumage and jumped up onto the fence fairly close to him, but he didn't move, just looked.

Progress! Yay!

I groomed him, tacked him and took him out for a ride. And the poor guy is SORE. Not dead limping lame, but sore enough that I just walked him around for about 15 mins., worked on leg yielding a bit and called it done. The only thing I can imagine that would have made him sore was his ill-conceived leap sideways over the fence. He may have pulled or twisted something just enough to be ouchie. I could find no heat, no swelling, I palpated and got no OUCH! reactions, so, who knows.

Two bute and call me in the morning. I'll give him a couple of days to rest up and see if he's still sore. If he is, guess there will be a vet bill in my future.

The personality differences and braveness levels in my horses constantly amuse me.

Calypso, that fiesty little mare, has no fear of the peacock. Actually, I think she's pretty fed up with that bird roosting on HER run-in and violating her sensitive ears with his high-pitched screams.

So, what's a good lead mare do?

Attack the peacock of course and run him off. She has gone after my chickens from time to time when she decides she's had enough of their food-stealing ways. She's kicked a couple of them. Last night she went after that peacock, neck snaked, ears flat, teeth bared and tried to stomp him. She chased him through two paddocks and wasn't happy until he was well out of her paddock and on his merry way. I'm not quite sure what she would have done if the peacock had turned around and popped that plumage on her. Run the other way most likely!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Grand Prix jumper he is not

Imagine for a moment you are a prey animal and you know you are made of sweet, tasty meat. You are constantly surveying your surroundings, aware of anything that might consider you a filling meal. Your legs are made for running and your mind is quickly overtaken by the flight instinct when you feel threatened.

Your house is your refuge, your safe place, the place where you hang out and eat and chill.

One day a small, seemingly harmless monster moves in and decides to take up residence in your safety zone. You give the monster the hairy eyeball but decide it probably doesn't like your brand of sweet flesh so you move on and leave it be.

The next day something horrible happens — the seemingly harmless monster suddenly and without warning grows to five times it's normal size and sprouts thousands of eyes that stare hungrily at you. Then it starts screaming like a harpy, stamping and grunting around your house. You're pretty sure you see blood from previous hapless victims dripping from its gaping maw, perhaps you spot gobbets of rotting flesh stuck between it's razor-like talons.

Like any prey animal without a death wish you do what you must — You lose your everloving mind and freak the hell out in your mad dash attempt to escape the thousand hungry eyes and flesh ripping monster.

This morning Gabe was absolutely convinced the peacock, who has decided to hang out around Gabe's run-in, was going to devour him whole every time he puffed up into his full, glorious 5-foot plus plumage and started yelling for his girls.

I didn't realize how terrified he actually is of that peacock (only with the tail feathers up and fluffed) until he decided to try to escape from that bird by going over the paddock fence.

He didn't quite make it.

I'm a bit of a safety freak about my fencing, which is electric rope. When I moved to the farm it was all fenced in four strands of barbed wire which just would not do. I spent an entire summer tearing it all down and replacing it. I use the thick electric rope, not the skinny stuff because I determined the skinny stuff could be too dangerous for horses (who happen to be walking time bombs when it comes to mysterious injuries). I keep it all in good repair, have all the T-posts capped and check it regularly. One thing I really like about this type of fencing is that the insulators break at about 200 pounds of pressure, which is perfect. As soon as the insulators break, the fence sags harmlessly out of the way. I've never had a horse tangle up in the fence, the rope does not wrap very easily at all and really, they'd have to try pretty hard to get tangled in it. I like it very much and wouldn't change to anything else even if I had an endless checking account.

Gabe took down the top rope because he tried to jump the damn thing sideways instead of straight on. I have a feeling he would have cleared it if he'd come at it straight on.

He hit that top strand and the insulators popped free, the fence sagged and away he went, tail flagging, sweat dripping, the whites of his eyes showing and fear quivering his whole body.

But, all is good, he injured nothing more than his pride but he's still convinced the peacock is going to have him for lunch. Silly boy.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Mother Nature is menopausal...we're having a hot flash

From fall-like temperatures to heat-warning highs in less than a week. Ahh, Mother Nature, I have a bone to pick with you. Why did you keep spring away from us this year? We've been sweltering in 100-degree heat indexes since Saturday with very little relief and quite frankly, I'm over it. The humidity is insane and the wind nearly non-existent so all the horses can do is stand around and sweat. And sweat. And sweat. Poor babies.

There isn't a whole lot I can do to make them more comfortable in this heat. When they come in sweaty and hot at night I try to hose them off and re-apply the fly spray. At this point, fly spray is probably the best thing I can do for them. The less they have to worry about, flick and stomp biting bugs the more comfortable they are in the heat. I have mixed feelings about the hosings...sometimes I think they get some relief, other times I get the feeling it makes them feel stickier and hotter, especially in this humidity.

If I had actual stalls I could lock them in during the day instead of just open run-in sheds, I'd keep them in all day and turn fans on them then turn them out during the cooler (and buggier!) night hours.

But, I don't, so I do what I can. I have three pastures that I rotate them through every few weeks. Two pastures have woods, the third does not. I use the third during the early spring and late fall when the heat isn't so bad that they need the trees for shade. It takes some planning to be sure the other two pastures can support grazing during the hottest part of the season without stressing the grass. I probably rotate and mow more often than absolutely necessary, but, I tell you what, my pastures, they are GORGEOUS and chock full of yummy, thick, green grasses.

When it stays hot like this for days on end I like to make sure they have fairly cool water to drink. The water in the tanks tends to become hot and nasty fast under this unforgiving sun. I can't imagine that being very refreshing at all! So, I dump about half the tank and refill it so they can at least have cool drinks in the evening. Salt is essential when they are sweating constantly so salt/mineral blocks are checked daily. When it stays hot, hot, hot I add electrolytes to their evening feed and mix it with a cool mash of beet pulp to encourage consumption. Some horse owners like to add it to water, but I don't. Mine are just picky enough about their water that I don't want to risk them not drinking enough because they don't like the electrolytes. Missing an evening meal because of the electrolytes won't hurt them, not drinking will. None of my horses will suffer from missing a meal, that's for sure!

Obviously, when the heat warning goes on for days I don't ride. I could, but really, why? I'd be hot and miserable and my horse would be hot and miserable. I do hose them or groom them, but no riding for me when the heat indexes hit 100 degrees. I have tried to get up before the sun to beat the heat, but so far, that plan has not yet come to fruition. I'm far too fond of the snooze button for that to happen. But it will, some time...I hope. Soon...maybe. When I was younger these days would be spent on the horses in the creek or river, diving from their backs, just hanging out with friends and all of us staying nice and cool.

What do you do to keep your horses comfortable and healthy when the heat becomes unbearable?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Early morning visitors

We had a visitor on the farm this morning...the gorgeous guy came visiting with his two girlfriends.

He even raised that plumage to show off for a bit.

The horses, while appropriately impressed with his dance and that gigantic tail, got riled up and I'm sure they just knew he was a horse eating monster. All three of them were flagging tails, snorting and prancing around the pasture, but they sure were interested in him.

As long as he kept his distance, of course.

Friday, June 3, 2011

1,100 pounds of beast, tamed

I think Gabe missed me. I really do. Life has been so very hectic lately that just about the only time I've had to see him is during feeding time and their nightly fly-spraying. Wednesday he was kind of moping around a bit and I kept a closer than usual eye on him thinking maybe he was trying to colic on me.

Thursday he was a little more chipper, but just not his normal perky self. But as soon as he saw me heading out to the pasture with the halter, the ears pricked up and he came trotting hard and strong towards me, neck arched, tail high and draped over his rump like a crazy Arab.

He pushed his head into my chest and asked for scratches and I complied. I picked handful of ticks off his face and scratched deep into his ears (his favorite spot) and he groaned and lost his balance more than once. I think his eyes rolled so far back in his head he saw his brain. The ticks are HORRIBLE this year. I've never picked ticks off my horses before, but this year, I'm pulling at least 10 each off faces during the nightly fly-spray down. It's disgusting.

Gabe has never been very patient when it comes to just standing still for grooming or waiting or anything. Last night, he stood like a rock while I groomed and tacked. He walked without flinching over a tarp (pool cover) tossed on the ground and walked quietly past the new chicken run without giving it the stink eye.

He was on his very best behavior, I don't know if it was because he missed our time together or he just didn't want to put forth the effort to be a turd.

The ride can only be described in one word: Incredible.

The last time I rode we worked on his response to my cues to trot and canter. He's sticky off the cues and often dribbles down to Western pleasure horse paces if I don't keep on him. A lot of the last lesson stuck and I only had to remind him a couple of times to keep going at the pace I set.

Our canters were wonderful....springy, forward, fluid and he carried himself rounded, which is so delightful to ride. I could ride that canter all day long.

It was so very nice to be in the saddle again, I truly missed it and could tell by my deteriorating attitude towards the world that I needed my horse time.

I got it, and life once again is fabulous!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The first rides

One of my favorite things to do (other than riding, of course) is to give beginner rider lessons. I've never done it as a major source of income but the time I did spend giving lessons regularly I loved it. I prefer teaching the young kids, the ones who are just learning and are so very excited to just be on a horse. I get to form the basics, the building blocks and the confidence that they will build on for the rest of their riding lives.

I've recently been giving occasional lessons to a friend's five-year-old daughter and it is so much fun. I'm remembering how much fun I had teaching a small group of kids (all under 10) weekly and I'm kind of missing it a bit.

She is riding Chief (the Saint) and she has been just thrilled to death with the half hour or so of horse time. She doesn't care if we just walk around, walk over cavaletti or stand there talking about horses and riding. Her enthusiasm is infectious and I absolutely love seeing the light bulbs go off in her head when she figures out something new then works to master one task at a time. I'm a huge proponent of making games out of the lessons at this age and not just teaching riding, but horse care, grooming, tacking, safety, handling, parts of the horse and care of equipment. With the heat of summer fast upon us, our next lesson may be in horse bathing.

At this age everything about the horses should be fun, not a tedious chore that must be done, and she sure is having fun and building confidence as we go. She's still on the lead line at this point but I think in the next lesson or two I'll let her take control and see how that goes. It's the first time off the line that is the most thrilling and telling: Will she take to her new leadership role with confidence or will she be timid and let him do what he wants? It's that first time off the line that often gives a pretty clear picture about what a rider will most likely be like as she grows and learns: A leader? A follower? Confident or timid?

When my daughter first went off the line I knew immediately what kind of person and rider she'd be and she has so far fulfilled every expectation I formed during that first lead-free ride: She's a leader who tends to be very confident, a daredevil willing to try anything once, but a compassionate and caring rider who won't ask more from her horse than she thinks he can do.

Tonight I hope to ride Gabe...between the rain and trying to keep up with school, work and farmwork, my riding has been getting pushed to the back burner. It's been nearly a month since I last rode, and that just won't do. Not at all.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Where's the hay?

For the past month or so every time I thought I'd sit down and write a post I'd think: What should I write about today?

And the only answer I ever was able to come up with was rain and mud. And those posts, quite honestly, have been getting rather old and tedious. I'm tired of rain. I'm tired of mud and I'm tired of complaining about the rain and mud.

I'm ready for summer to truly be here and these torrential downpours and weeks and weeks and weeks of nonstop storms and rain to just slow down. Not stop, mind you, my pastures depend on the rain, but at least slow down enough so the mud pits have a chance to dry out a bit.

I have run into a problem I didn't anticipate. Going into winter I had plenty of hay to get me through to the first cutting of the season and I timed the number of bales with my ability to turn the horses out on pasture full time.

I didn't anticipate the massive, nonstop rain we've had. All the hay producers/sellers I know have empty barns and no one has been able to get out to bale. I haven't been able to turn the horses out much at all due to the swampy conditions of their pastures.

And I'm out of hay. I panicked. I made a gazillion calls and could find no hay. I found one hay producer who was contacting HIS clients trying to find hay to buy back so he could feed his cattle...he is in the same boat I am and I imagine there are more than a few of us.

I found some hay — two-year old rained-on craptacular hay/straw/weeds that is better suited as bedding than feed. I bought 10 bales just to give them something to keep them busy.

I haven't fed hay as an actual main staple in their diets for about a week now. Don't worry, I'm not starving my darlings, in all actuality they are probably consuming MORE calories now than when eating hay!

Beet pulp and hay/alfalfa cubes have been my lifesaver. Granted, I'm going through A LOT of it and it is more expensive than hay, but when in a pinch, you gotta do what you gotta do and they really don't seem to mind. They haven't been eating the craptacular hay, they pick at it, then pee on it and sometimes sleep on it. Guess they're telling me exactly what they think about that crap. The goats seem to like it though. Odd ducks they are.

Here's hoping, praying, begging, pleading for a good solid two weeks of dry, warm weather. I need to start re-stocking my hay shed and the horses sure would like to be back out on pasture ASAP! The grass is up to their bellies...nom nom nom!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Hit the books, find the bend

Don't you love those "ah ha!" breakthrough rides? The ones where whatever issue has been eluding you is well on it's way to being solved in an exhilerating moment when angels sing and relief washes over you.

Relief, oh, sweet relief to realize that I'm NOT such a miserable rider that I can't help my horse figure out what I'm asking. It was getting to the point where I was starting to really struggle with whether or not we could fix this shoulder popping, neck snaking, hips swinging WAY out issue on circles, especially tracking right. Struggling with questions about whether I even belonged in the saddle any more if I couldn't figure out this simple problem.

So, I did what I usually do, I hit the books. "Dressage Questions Answered," by Charles de Kunffy is an invaluable tool to help figure out issues. I also read an article called "The Magic of the Outside Rein," that really helped shine some light on our issue. I know the "inside leg to outside rein" concept, and I've achieved what it's supposed to do a time or two on dressage schoolmasters, but I've never been able to get it to work like it's supposed to on a green horse. The article "The Magic of the Outside Rein," really broke it down into why it works and offered a bit more advice on how to use it in a way I'd never considered before. I used the method and like magic, Gabe responded! It was a relief, it was like finally finding the key that fit the lock after groping through hundreds of them.

The bit of advice that brought it home for me was to use the WHOLE rein, not just as connection to the bit. Oooh, new concept for me! So I did just that. I used the rein against his neck to not only "push" him over when I tapped with the inside leg, but to keep that shoulder from popping out and the neck from overbending in. If he started to pop the shoulder I aimed my outside hand towards my center and took a bit of a stronger hold on it and the shoulder popping ceased. Wonder of wonders, it DOES work! Yee haw! Is he perfectly bending around circles yet? No way, but we have unlocked that door and are well on our way.

The second thing we worked on was his sluggishness to respond to the leg. He's not lightning quick off a cue, which is something I've written about before. So yesterday, we worked on increasing the timing of his responsiveness with quick, repetitive walk/trot, trot/walk transitions on the circle (bending nicely too!) and I really expected him to trot with strong, forward energy as soon as I asked, not when he got around to feeling like doing so. The constant "on the ball" expectation that he was going to be asked to respond to do something else very shortly also had him rounding his back and coming forward with his hind. Very, very nice!

I had noticed that with Gabe I've adopted a "defensive seat" instead of a more following, relaxed light seat. I was constantly prepared for him to do something nutty and due to that, I was tense and always at the ready. A suggestion I picked up from the de Kunffy book was to ride by thinking about keeping my legs millimeters off his body to force me to relax and ride with my seat instead of a gripping leg.

Amazing how much he relaxes and swings his back when my tense body isn't inhibiting him.

Towards the end of our 45 minute ride he was responding so much quicker, was very relaxed (a couple of swinging, stretchy, chewy circles proved that) and a few times, at the end of our session, he would trot as soon as I thought about trotting and tensed my calf. Amazing how that works!

I can see plenty of more doors on this journey with Gabe, but I'm adding more keys to my dressage keychain that I'm sure will help me swing them open wide.

Friday, April 1, 2011


Gabe looks just like his daddy!

My big guy is one of the last foal crops from Runaway Groom, who was euthanized on June 8, 2007 at 28 years old. He stayed active in the breeding shed until February 2007 when his handlers noticed he was becoming more and more uncomfortable in his old age. When medication and therapy failed to keep him comfortable, he was put down.

What a handsome man he was. Aside from a less-refined head than Gabe's, they look nearly identical.

I've never been a huge fan of flea-bitten grays, but I have a feeling that's what Gabe will be. It's a good thing no good horse is a bad color. Check out the bone, the well-conformed, made-to-last build on this solid Canadian-bred stallion. This is a horse that was bred for strength and stamina, not at all resembling the narrow, wispy, wasp-waisted, delicate-looking Thoroughbreds that are being bred in the U.S. today. The horses bred to run but not bred to last.

I'm so glad Gabe got his old-style Thoroughbred conformation from the Canadian side of his line.

A video of Runaway Groom at his Lexington retirement home. It's almost like looking into the future of what Gabe might look like as he ages and gets whiter and whiter.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The little bay mare

The girl child informed me last night that she does not want me to sell the mare.

"I want to ride her," I am informed. "I don't want you to sell her. She's so sweet and so good and I really like her."

Oh, dilemma, dilemma. I've been wanting to and trying to sell Calypso. I don't ride her enough to justify feeding her, and honestly, she's just not my "type." She's a good mare, don't get me wrong. She's a fabulous little quarter horse: Willing, able, quiet and good-tempered. I can put anyone on her and she is a gem. She can be a little quick at the beginning of a ride, not trotting or crazy, just fast-walking, but she settles down into a slower pace about 15 minutes into the ride, drops her head, relaxes and just goes along for whatever is asked.

She goes English, Western, trail rides, does some jumping, longes, has enviable ground manners, ground ties, comes when called, is an easy-keeper, is very surefooted on the trails and is one of those horses that does what is asked without question. You can aim her down a cliff and she'll ask "how fast?" not "How come?" Her conformation sucks: Very straight, upright shoulder and pasterns and she's built downhill rather than uphill. Her trot is like riding a pogo stick and impossible to sit without your teeth getting rattled out of your head. Her canter is quite nice, if you can keep her off her forehand.

I estimate Chief, at 25 years old now, has another good 4-5 years in him, if we can keep the arthritis in check and keep him comfortable. That's 4-5 years of non-strenuous work. He can't be jumped, due to not wanting to put any kind of additional stress on those arthritic joints, and we don't ask him to canter on any kind of circle, again, the arthritic joints. I made a promise to Chief that he'll be with me until he dies or until I have to have him put to sleep. He won't be sold, period.

Kayleigh has gotten to the point in her riding confidence that she wants to canter and jump and do all the crazy horse things I did at her age. She can do that on Calypso...she can't do a lot of that on Chief. Calypso is 10, so she has another good 15 years, barring any major injuries or accidents.

One of the reasons I've been trying to sell Calypso is because she's basically been just another mouth to feed: Useless to me beyond a pasture pony. I know, that sounds terrible, but when you're on a limited budget, another "useless" mouth to feed isn't an option. I've been feeding her for this long, so keeping her really doesn't add to the feed/upkeep/vet/farrier expenses, it just maintains them. I was looking to decrease those expenses. But if Kayleigh is willing and able to ride her (often, not just once or twice a month!) then I'll keep her around for as long as she is useful in that respect.

So, I told the kid she gets this summer to show me that she'll ride Calypso regularly, that she CAN ride Calypso, and that she enjoys riding the little bay mare. All while making sure she keeps giving plenty of attention to Chief. Kayleigh is Chief's kid, and I worry he'll be heartbroken if he gets dumped and ignored for the mare.

If not, she'll go back on the market.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Classical wisdom

I've been trying to catch up on my blog reading and I'm currently reading through several posts by Calm, Forward, Straight about classical dressage and the current popular (and very wrong, in my opinion) method of riding a horse consistently behind the vertical. This post (which is a reposting of a series of articles from the Dressage and CT magazine no longer in publication), struck me as particularly relevant for me right now.

Face Behind the Vertical
A "modern" deviation from the classical ideal.
Part Three

by Erik V. Herbermann

Modern trainers claim that horses "give" better in their backs when they are ridden behind the vertical. But as we have seen earlier form Fillis and Baucher, the only advantage to this way of working is that the horse cannot as easily resist the rider. Now, our instant gut reaction might be that this is exactly what we want, but for true horsemanship, this is only "Fool's Gold," because where poor riding makes the horse unable to resist, good riding strives to give the horse no reason to resist.

Not only does the artificial "face behind the vertical" way of ridding the horse of its ability to resist not lead to a true state of "lack of resistance" (which can only originate from honest, forward-going work), but it actually blocks off the very avenue though which such correct influences might come into play at all. This blockage occurs on both the psychological and physical planes.

Psychologically: if we rob the horse of its "say" by shutting off its ability to resist, we inevitably also shut off its willingness to contribute, and with that evaporates the potential for achieving the "playful ease and beauty" of the performances. Those coveted fruits of riding, which can only unfold from an honest, trusting, and harmonious partnership have thus been forfeited. The dialogue has ceased. Only the rider's willful monologue remains.

Physically and technically: by riding the horse behind the vertical, with curled-up "empty" necks, we rob them of the proper use of the major locomotive muscles in their backs, which are anchored in the neck. The hind legs are hindered from "jumping freely into the poll," which would ordinarily cause the horse to carry its head with the poll as the highest point. And since the energy is therefore not properly focused out of the hindquarters and reaching forward to the bit, the horses are not honestly stretched in their spines. The connection between the hindquarter and the bit, which is indispensable to correct work, has not been solidly established. Instead of beiong supple and energetic, such a hindquarter is restricted and stiff and cannot develop the appropriate carrying and thrusting energy that leads to correct balance.

The correct balance in the horse should be "held" by the perpendicular balance of the rider's spine, resting partially on the crotch and mainly on both seat bones. If, however, it is held with the hands, such as it often is when the horse is ridden with its face behind the vertical, either the horses barge like locomotives against the bit, up to which they have been forced, or they are artificially light in hand (behind the bit) and are not truly going forward. This is one of the central reasons for the artificial quality of the gaits we so often see.

For our horsemanship to be valid, its critical that we tirelessly strive to maintain the highest quality of the gaits. This is reflected in the absolute purity of the footfall, which is the medium ---the very lifeblood--- of good horsemanship. It is therefore imperative for us to understand the inseparable correlation between the head and neck position of the horse, how this position has been achieved, and the direct effects these elements have on the quality of the gaits.

In a well known book of ethical guidelines, the Master says, "By their fruits will you know them. Can people pick grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles?" We can rightfully draw an analogy and conclude that good work produces pure, beautiful gaits. Poor work produces warping and distortions. So judging by its unmistakable ruinous effects on the gaits, "face behind the vertical" should have no part in our horsemanship if we are at all sincere about following the classical way. "Face behind the vertical" is a tip-of-the-iceberg phenomenon in which the basic mathematics is wrong --- how can the equations built on it help but fail?