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?

Throwing out the baby birds

As much as I hate taking months off my riding due to snow and absolutely foul weather, in some cases, it can be a major advantage in the whole training scheme of things.

I had my second ride on Gabe last night after about a three month hiatus. With him it usually takes 2-3 rides to get his brain back on track and into "work" mode. He was surprisingly wonderful for both rides. Aside from a few "damn I'm feeling GOOD!" moments, he was responsive and eager. I might even venture to say he was happy to be back to work!

And I accidentally discovered something about him that may make moving forward in our training much easier.

I will admit right here (and you'll never hear me admit it again!), that getting back on a horse (especially one as big, powerful and unpredictable as Gabe) that has been out of work for months honestly scares the shit out of me. I get nervous, my stomach turns queasy and I imagine all kinds of things that could go terribly, terribly wrong. That log over there? Pretty sure I'll land on it and break my back. The fence post we're walking by? Although it's capped and we're 10 feet away from it, I'm darn certain my horse is going to spook, chuck me 10 feet through the air and I'll be impaled on it. The slight slope on the other side of the arena? Yup, I just know he's going to spook sideways and we'll trip and ass over ears down it and I'll be crushed irreparably beneath him. Irrational, yes, but that's the way my brain works. Once I get on and get moving, my brain calms down and my stomach settles about 15 minutes into the ride and I just laugh at myself for being such a crazy person.

Anyway...all this irrational crap was running through my head, and, as a result, I had a stronger than usual hold on the reins. Usually I like to handle the reins as if they were delicate, easily-broken threads, I prefer to have a light, soft, giving touch of my horse's mouth.

Something amazing happened.

Gabe seemed to ENJOY the stronger connection, even welcome it. I'm not talking about him leaning on the bit, he wasn't. He took the connection I gave him and he accepted it like a firm, friendly handshake. I'm not talking a death grip on the reins and I'm not talking about pulling back with bulging biceps. I'm simply saying he seemed to welcome a little more weight in my hands than what I've been giving him. He was responsive to the slightest finger wiggle, he gave and relaxed his jaw and poll when I "sponged" the reins and the white foam dripped wonderfully from his amazingly quiet mouth. I've mentioned before that he plays, plays, plays with the bit, sucking it up into his mouth, trying to chew on it, wiggling it, grinding his teeth, etc.

There was none of that, as long as I kept a firm connection with him. As soon as I dropped the reins to go on the buckle, he dropped his whole neck and dove for the bit as if he had dropped something and was trying to find it. His mouth went to work wiggling, wiggling, chewing, chewing, grinding, grinding at the bit. As soon as I took up a firmer connection, the playing stopped.

Is it a comfort thing for him? Does he just prefer "strong" leadership from me in the saddle? Is it a leftover habit from his racetrack days? I don't know, but I'm going to go with it. Eventually, I'd prefer NOT to have such a strong contact, I prefer the "baby bird in your hand" approach, but for now it works and I'll run with it for as long as he needs me to.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Off they go!

It's St. Patrick's day and you know what that means? Spring is literally just around the corner! I have green grass poking its head through the mud and my daffodils are blooming. The horses are shedding like mad and Gabe is acting like he's been cooped up in a stall all winter. Even old man Chief has been feeling his oats, bucking and farting around like a yearling.

We still have massive amounts of mud. We had the wettest February in almost a century and my ground is definitely showing it. There's no where left for the water to go so it just sits on top of the saturated ground and turns everything into a smushy bog.

My daughter and I couldn't ride last night, although the weather was perfect for it, because of the mud, but we got the horses out and gave them a good grooming instead. I could make two new horses out of the hair I pulled off Gabe and Calypso! Chief is shedding a lot, too, and as usual, his white spots are shedding first and most.

We had a little minor emergency last night that made me so, so thankful horses are ruled by the tummies and tend to prefer being in each others company.

I had finished grooming Gabe and was letting him graze on the new grass in the yard while Kayleigh put Chief back into his paddock and caught Calypso so I could groom and worm her, too. Instead of hooking both electric ropes back up at Chief's gate (we have a gate that connects the two paddocks, it makes turnout easier during the summer), she just hooked the top rope. Well, Chief, being the sneaky little escape artist he is, took advantage of the situation and shot under the top rope of the gate into Gabe's paddock and straight out the open main gate into the yard. Of course, as he whipped by Gabe (my back was turned to the paddock while I let Gabe graze) he stirred up his blood. Gabe spun, lunged forward and took off after Chief, ripping the rope through my hands (ouch to torn flesh!) as he did so. I thought they were GONE! as they both tore up the bank next to the house and headed towards the driveway.

Suddenly, they both realized Calypso was not with them. Kayleigh had a nice snug hold on her and that mare is so well-mannered she just stood there, tail up and blowing with excitement, but not moving a single hoof to go after them because Kayleigh told her to whoa! Good girl, good girl. I tied her up and sent Kayleigh after a bucket of grain to entice the two bad boys back to us. I knew if I put Calypso back in the paddock she'd just rip around the paddock screaming at the boys and get them even more whipped up.

I shook the bucket, Gabe's ears came forward and he came right to me, like a bee to honey. What a good boy.

Chief is usually a pain in the ass to catch. Honestly, the only one who never has any problems catching him is Kayleigh. I can follow that jerk around the paddock for hours and he lets me get JUUUSSTTT close enough to touch him, then he turns and walks away. The faster I walk after him, the faster he walks. He never runs, he just stays right out of reach. I thought we were going to have a major issue with him, but Kayleigh took the bucket, shook the grain, put it on the ground and he took the bait. She flipped a rope over his neck, buckled on the halter and he never flinched or made a single move to get away.

My poor kid was shaking so bad! She thought her horse was gone for sure. And she kept apologizing for not hooking up the bottom rope...of course, I told her it wasn't her fault, neither one of us thought Chief would decide to make a Great Escape. We just know not to do that again. Lesson learned.

All ended well, everyone got wormed and brushed and we managed to inject a little bit of excitement into the evening.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Just dreamin'

Sometimes I drive by the big Lotto sign and see that HUGE money number and start dreaming.

What would I do with a few million bucks? It's nice to dream, so that's what I'm going to do on this rainy, cold, icky day. Dream a little bit about spending money I don't have and will most likely never have (gotta play to win, right? I don't play.).

We're going to assume I paid off all my outstanding bills and the mortgage before I get to the play money.

First and foremost, a new truck:

And of course, a new trailer w/ kickass living quarters to go with the new truck:

Then, a new Marcel Toulouse Premia jumping saddle and Stubben Maestoso dressage saddle :

Lessons with Walter Zettl:

Ingrid Klimke:

Bruce Davidson:

and Pippa Funnell:

A lifetime membership to the Ft. Leavenworth Hunt and I'd set up a fund to make an annual trip to foxhunt in Ireland:

I'd also like a few more of these:

A couple of these:

And a few of these:

One of these for relaxing sore muscles after riding all my horses:

And finally, a climate-controlled cellar filled with these to go with relaxation sessions in my hottub:

What would you do with a couple million if you had it just lying around?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

To shoe, or not to shoe?

I have never had shoes on Gabe. I know he wore shoes at the track, but when he came to me, he was barefoot and has the most beautiful feet I think I've ever seen, especially for a Thoroughbred.

His hooves are big, well-shaped and hard as rocks. He is not tenderfooted and does very well barefoot.

Lately I've been thinking about whether I should have him shod this summer or not. A lot of the trails/roads I ride near my farm are gravel. He does get "ouchy" on the gravel, which I'm sure makes the ride not so much fun for him. Then, I think about the damage that shoeing does to an otherwise healthy, hard hoof. I'm not so willing to start doing that and possibly weaken his feet too much, plus, it's an added expense every six weeks that I just can't really justify right now, especially since it's not a necessary expense.

But I need to do something so we can go riding even on the rockiest roads. I've been bouncing the idea of hoof boots around in my head and done a little bit of research on different styles of boots, but can't figure out what I need to look for. I've heard stories about hoof boots just not lasting long enough to justify the cost, boots that won't stay on, boots that rub pasterns raw or allow sand/dirt/rocks down into them and rub/bruise the pastern/hoof.

I've never used hoof boots on my horses before, so I'm a newbie.

Any suggestions as far as style/brand I should be looking for? What should I absolutely avoid? We don't do slow trail rides as often as we do plenty of trotting, cantering and a wee bit of galloping during our rides. The last thing I need is a hoof boot flying off during a gallop and having it whack him in the belly or get tangled up in his legs.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

woo hoo!


Massive shedding. Lots of long winter hair just falling out in great drifts.

I am happy.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

There is no sideways, only standing

Sometimes when you sit in one position too long your foot or leg or hip goes to sleep and when it "wakes" up there is an incredible tingly, almost itchy feeling.

My legs, my arms, my hands, my seat are all tingly and itchy with this intense desire and need to be in the saddle. Gabe, of course, could really care less whether I ride or not, as long as I visit him every day with peppermints and plenty of good scratching.

Actually, that might not be entirely true. When I walk out to his paddock with halter in hand he's never walked away...he always comes to me, even after watching me get out all my riding gear and put it near the hitching post. I think he enjoys our rides as much as I do.

I have also come to the conclusion that there is a rather large hole in our training that I need to fix ASAP, a problem I CAN fix on the ground (in the mud, rather) while I'm waiting for my marshy swampland to dry suitably enough for riding.

Gabe doesn't get the "move away from pressure when I tap you" concept. Yesterday I was cleaning his run-in and of course he had to be right there, head hanging over my shoulder, grabbing the manure fork and trying to wrest it from my hands or stealing my coat from his feed tub so I'd have to chase him to retrieve it.

He started getting on my nerves because he just wouldn't move enough out of the way for me to chuck the scoopful of bedding and poo out of his shed without making some rather interesting contortions while lugging 200 pounds of poo and pee-soaked shavings.

I pushed him and told him over. Nothing.

I did it again, using two fingers stiff against his side and told him over. Nothing.

I poked him in the side with the butt end of the manure fork and told him "over."

No response. I did it again. Poke.

Still nothing. He turned his head and gave me that "have you lost your bloody mind?" look and relaxed a hip.


Poke. Poke. Poke. Poke. Poke. Poke. Poke. Poke. Steady. Repetitive, hopefully annoying enough to get some response from him.


Well, he flinched a bit with each poke and leaned into the end of the manure fork instead of away from the poking. I couldn't decide if he was being a stubborn oaf or truly not understanding what I was trying to communicate.

And I started thinking. When he's tied up I have a similar issue. He doesn't move over with a slight touch of my fingers, as he should. I have to put a shoulder into him and move him over.

This is not a good thing. This is a serious, serious oversight on my part. This lack of understanding to move away from pressure is going to put a serious crimp in any further training, and, it also explains why our leg yields, TOFs, and TOHs suck royally.

I felt like poking myself repeatedly with the manure fork to get it through MY head that I'm a great big dunce. Duh.

This is basic training stuff. How could I have overlooked it? I have a few ideas about how/why I overlooked this basic training concept, and most have to do with some other more serious issues I was dealing with such as the rearing and running backwards problem we had in the beginning as well as the spook, spin and gallop sideways for no apparent reason issue I had to deal with quick and in a hurry.

I guess we'll be taking a few great big steps backwards to fix the hole before we can start moving forwards again. Gabe is just smart enough that I don't think it will take too terribly long to get him where he should be so we can get back on track again. I need to also re-evaluate everything to be sure I haven't inadvertently left another hole somewhere along the line.

Good thing my mind kicked into gear now and made this realization before we got much further along, which could have made going backwards to fix it a more difficult issue.