Monday, December 31, 2012

Snow riding

We got snow over the weekend! Yay! I much prefer the ground be frozen and covered in the white stuff than the mucky yucky mud we usually slog through most of the winter.

It's been a number of years since we've had enough snow on the ground to really go out and have a fun "snow ride." This time we did and I rode in it. Funny how riding in the snow, listening to the squeak and swish of the snow beneath your horse's hooves and feeling that brisk, snow-scented wind against your face brings back memories.

It quickly brought back memories of riding in Kansas when I was a child. Kansas gets some serious snow and huge drifts and we always took advantage of those snow days off school to go galloping through it or tying a disk sled to the western saddle horn on my pony, Blaze, and racing all over the place with one of us terrified on the sled and the other on the pony with one goal in mind: Get the sledder OFF the sled in the most obnoxious way possible. Dumping the sledder into a deep drift was one of my favorite methods. Oh, the memories! 

The snow this weekend excited me. I was really, really ready to go for a good hell-bent for leather gallop through the white stuff and I think Gabe would have gladly and eagerly obliged, but somehow, age and maturity has clouded my brain with sensibility, and racing through a field covered in snow didn't seem like the smartest, safest thing to do upon my steed. In my teens and early 20s I would have thought nothing of it and just did it with a whoop and a holler and a grin plastered across my cold-reddened face. Now, I think of the holes and uneven surfaces hidden beneath that smooth layer and imagine a twisted leg or painful fall by both of us.

Sometimes, getting older and more mature sucks.

We did have fun, even without riding hell-bent and whooping through the fields. We trotted and cantered through the snow and just had a really good time. The kiddo rode the rotten pony (Little Lou), and Jacquie joined us on Teddy and we giggled and trotted and thoroughly enjoyed our ride. Kayleigh rode Lou bareback, her first foray off-property on him bareback and he was a gem.

The snow was heavy and wet and clung to tree branches, which turned out to be quite amusing. Did you know that if you're on the tallest horse, and a shorter horse is following closely behind, that you can grab a high branch  as you pass under the tree and ALL that snow will fall on the rider behind you? It does! Poor Teddy, he was absolutely covered in snow by the time we got through the woods! Jacquie even managed to get some down her pants, to our great amusement.

Our horses put up with such nonsense from us sometimes, but I do think they had fun, too. Snorty, happy horses out playing in the snow.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Longer days

Dec. 21, Winter solstice, the longest night and shortest day of the year has come and gone (and we're still here! Take that, Mayans.) The day depresses me and gives me hope all at once. The day brings the promise that soon, there will be plenty of sunshine once again but, I also want to curl up under a toasty blanket and refuse to emerge until the daffodils poke their heads out of the ground.

But, I have horses to feed and care for and they would get pretty cranky if I ignored them until spring. We've been very fortunate this year, so far. Aside from some very, very strong winds and a little bit of sleet, we've yet to see any significant winter-like weather 'round these parts. *knock on wood!*

Do you know what else the Winter Solstice brings? A slow but steady march towards longer days and shorter nights, a very good thing!

We have made it through three long months of increasing darkness and are now again in the final stretch towards driving home from work in increasing light. I'm thankful and grateful for my arena lights, but I sure do miss riding in the sun.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The TNT under me

Most days Gabe is fairly laid back during our rides, sometimes, even downright plodding. I'm not complaining. I've had the horses who were sky-high the entire ride and you spend all of your time trying to get them to a quieter happy place so you can actually accomplish something, anything. The constant jig, jig, jigging some horses are so good at drives me crazy. Doing that day in and day out becomes tedious and is, quite frankly, not very much fun.

I do enjoy a horse with pep, for sure. I prefer a bit of pep and enthusiasm over ultra laziness. It keeps things interesting.

Gabe, in his infinite Thoroughbred wisdom, gives me both from time to time: The jig, jig, jigging and ultra plod. Sometimes, all in the same ride. I think he's bi-polar.

I can tell the heat is off in this part of the country. As soon as it started staying cooler (COLD!) more consistently, Gabe's energy level sky rocketed to what most people expect from a Thoroughbred.

Have you ever sat on a powder keg with a very short fuse? Exciting, isn't it? You never know when that thing's gonna BLOW!

That's how riding Gabe the last couple of days has been. Our nights have been below freezing, our days, just as chilly. And as soon as the chill is on, Gabe's fuse is lit. I always know when our ride is going to be stratospherically "fun" when we start the ride with him tossing his head and squealing while throwing in a few energetic crow hops. Exciting, I tell ya! I'm instantly "on my toes" and on the lookout for all the things that could suddenly appear and threaten to eat him. That mailbox that was just fine and benign two rides ago has suddenly sprouted flesh-tearing fangs and is whispering sweet gonna-eat-ya's in horse-flesh tainted breath to Gabe. He just KNOWS it. And he's ready to react.

He was a powder keg lined with TNT Wednesday. As soon as I got on I could feel that energy just waiting to explode, then, the head toss, squeal and leaping, firmly cemented in my mind that this would be a ride with me sitting in a half-seat at the ready for anything he could throw my way.

He was full of himself, but, still, well behaved for a Thoroughbred with an over-abundance of energy. We did a good, forward trot for a bit over a half mile and he was still full of himself but staying under control. He occasionally objected to the staying under control part with a squeal, head toss and Tigger bounce, but he didn't do anything crazy-stupid. Thank goodness. The coolest thing ever? I could really feel him round up and lift his back for more than half the ride and lift it more than he's ever lifted it before, both at the walk and the trot. It's an amazing feeling when a horse rounds properly beneath you and you can feel so much more horse ready and at your disposal. Pure pleasure and joy.

The rides only prove to me how very far we have come. Two years ago he would have been GONE, with or without me still in the saddle. And rounding? Forget about it.

I can handle (and I admit, even welcome!) the occasional excess-energy goofiness. It keeps things interesting. As long as I don't have to ride a jig, jig, jigging horse for five miles before we get a single walk stride, life is good. And boy, do I LOVE feeling all that athleticism and power right there at my disposal...all I have to do is ask for it and he'd give me all he's got with pure joy and boundless enthusiasm.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Eager to GO!

Remember last year when I was having a heck of a time convincing His Majesty to even get near my trailer, much less put a single hoof into its scary interior?

That was frustrating. I worked and worked and worked with him and while we had some forward progress, he was still balking every time he saw the trailer, even if it was just us riding near it. He was still flying out of it backwards before he ever got all the way on and when he did get two feet on, he'd stand there and shake before flying backwards.

I'm am so, so pleased to report I now have another, more positive "problem."

I can't keep Gabe away from the dang thing when it's pulled out into the driveway, hooked up to the truck and the back gate wide open.

I have to fight him to convince him to NOT go charging into the thing, I have to walk him in circles to keep him from leaping aboard while we wait for Teddy to get loaded and situated in the trailer.

Last weekend we took them out and he was so eager to jump aboard he just about pulled me off my feet in his need to load up and go.

This makes me happy. Very happy! Not only did he get over his irrational fear of the trailer, he has also come to associate the trailer with good things. Which means he must really enjoy our outings. Yay! I must have done something right!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

All out of excuses

Ooooh, boy.

It's that time of year when I start feeling like a fair weather rider again. And I really have no excuse this year. Last year, I could blame it on not having lights in the arena: I can't ride when it's dark!

Not this year. I have lights so I can ride any freakin' time I feel like it.

Which is the problem. When it starts getting downright cold and windy, I don't really feel like it. I could have gone riding yesterday: I had the day off, it was sunny and not freeze-your-butt-off cold. But dang, it was WINDY and that wind was whipping right through me and chilling me to the bone.

So, I didn't ride and I felt guilty about it all evening, beating myself up for being a wussy fair weather rider.

All summer (spring and fall, too) long, when the weather is amenable, I make claims that I don't mind riding in the cold. And really, I don't, if I can convince myself to get out there and get on. It's the getting out and there and getting on that's the challenge. Once I'm on and riding the cold is no big thing (until you dismount, of course, and land on frozen feet that feel like every bone has shattered when you hit the ground).

We haven't even had much rain this year, so I can't use the mud as an excuse.

I have lights, I have a dry and usable arena, I have warm clothes and gloves and a hat - I have no more excuses!

Today, I will ride when I get home from work. Even if it's for just a short time, I will ride and I will be happy that I did.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Tack Woes

I love knowing that I've been working Gabe correctly. I can feel it in the way he moves, he seems very happy in his work and is able to do the things I ask with more ease because he's carrying himself more efficiently and in much, much better balance. I can see the muscling in his neck, shoulder and back changing for the better. The boy is bulking up and becoming broader and stronger and his topline looks fantastic.

Which is a very good thing.

And a very bad thing.

My saddle, which was already an iffy fit to begin with, definitely no longer fits. At all. The tree is way too narrow on bulky boy's bigger body. In the last couple of weeks I've been having major issues with it sliding backwards significantly, a good indicator that it doesn't fit any more.

On top of that I've recently finished two rides and he has been sore on both sides just behind his withers, the place where the points of the saddle tree poke into him. Those points that once sat nicely and parallel to his withers, are now digging in and making him sore. Ugh. My poor boy.

I really, really need a new saddle, one that fits and doesn't make him sore, the sooner, the better. This is a situation where padding up to make it fit isn't an option. With a saddle that is already too snug, padding up will only make it worse.

I love saddle shopping when I have the cash to purchase a new saddle, but, I don't. I absolutely LOVE the saddle I have now. I've had it for 10 years, it still looks new (yes, I'm a little bit obsessive about cleaning it) and I love the way it fits me. But, it doesn't fit him, and that's very, very important, especially as he continues to muscle out and become more fit. He is such a pleasure to ride and obviously loves whatever we do, and I don't want to destroy that attitude by forcing him to do things that leave him sore and painful at the end of it all.

When we started this work I fully intended to take flexible ruler measurements of his withers and back every week and keep tracings of them in a book so I'd have a visual way to track his progress. I failed, so, while I know and can see the shape and size of his back has changed, I can't even begin to say how much. I can only say its' enough that the saddle now fits like a shoe that's three sizes too small.

Any recommendations for a good all-purpose type saddle that comes in a wide tree that will fit a high-withered Thoroughbred? He is going to be a challenge to fit properly.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Pony races

Gabe is a rockstar.

Seriously, he is! Well, he's MY rockstar any way. We went to our very first show this weekend and I can't even begin to gush enough about how good he was. It was wet, rainy and VERY windy so the show was moved inside.

Gabe has never been ridden in an indoor arena. And it was LOUD, with the wind and the howling and creaking and occasional clatter of tin against tin when a particularly big gust of wind slammed into the side of building. The indoor was tiny, barely big enough to fit two jumps in on each long side.

And ponies. There were ponies EVERYWHERE, little kids on all kinds of ponies who really didn't seem to know how to steer very well in an indoor during a flat class. You have no idea how many times I said a little thank you prayer that Gabe has good brakes, a good brain and loves those danged ponies. There was more than one time when a kid, so excited to be showing, nearly slammed into us due to not really paying attention where they were headed. It could have been disastrous.

But, it wasn't.

When we arrived he was on super high alert, tail up, nostrils flared and dancing around just LOOKING at everything and throwing a few loud snorts around for good measure. My first thought was this had been a really bad idea. I couldn't ride him like that, not with all these kids around. The outdoor arena was a lake and the indoor was very much occupied so there wasn't even the chance to get him out alone with plenty of space to keep him away from others and work him into his zen place. I couldn't do that in the teeny tiny arena with all those kids. Someone might get hurt if I couldn't keep his crazy butt calm and controlled.

Ten minutes later he was settled, relaxed, munching on hay and saying hi to neighbors and passersby.

So, so proud of my big man. It was all good. He was chillin' and had seen enough to know he could take his brain out of panic/flee mode.

The arena wasn't even a thing for him. I think I was more worried about it than he was. He was more interested in trying to stop at the far end to say hi to all the people sitting and standing there watching the show. He wanted to be friends with ALL the ponies and was pretty convinced they all wanted to be friends with him. It took a little bit to get his mind off all the new potential friends and on to me, but once it was there, we were golden.

We did a couple of flat classes and a couple of hunter over fences classes and he was so, so good. Better than I thought he would be. Once he got over the initial excitement, it was all just another thing I was throwing at him to deal with.

He only lost attention on me once, and I can't fault him for it.

Imagine this: Small (itty bitty) indoor arena, about 10 other horses and riders and Gabe. Flat class. Walk. Trot. Reverse. CANTER. On a Thoroughbred, who, the last time he ran with a big group of horses was on a track. Oh god.

Gabe has a brilliant canter, it's lovely to ride and breathtaking to watch. But I've never cantered him in a group with other cantering horses, some seeming to run hellbent for leather around that arena like freakin' barrel racers. That was a little bit scary to see those ponies ZOOMMM!!! in and out of the other ponies. A lil bit out of control perhaps.

He kept it together very well. He got a little fast, but nothing to worry about because he responded to my seat and request to sloooowwww.

It was the second request for canter in the other direction that made him lose his brain just a wee bit. Cantering along (beautifully and controlled), we came into a corner and all the sudden he had a minor come apart. Nothing horrible, but he squealed, tossed his head around and leaped into the air for a stride, then, settled right back into a nice canter. Think Tigger moment. Bouncy bouncy fun fun fun!

I think he had so much EXCITEMENT built up from cantering with all those other horses and getting passed within a whiskers' distance by zooming ponies that he had to do something with it RIGHT NOW or he'd explode. While not pretty, it was acceptable, in my mind. He got the excess energy out without going over the top and moved on with the work. Maybe that was his "primal scream" moment. You know the ones...scream it all out, then move on.

I don't think the judge caught his minor "sneeze" because we placed first in that class. We placed in every class, which, while fun, wasn't my goal, but, it was kind of cool to have something to bring home with us. Mementos for the day.

We didn't go to earn ribbons, we went to get The Boys some exposure to a different, new environment and the whole day was a huge success. 

Gabe made a few new fans, too. Adults and kids alike were fawning over his highness and he was eating it up. Pet me? Sure! Talk to me? Yes please! Admire me? Oh, yes you may! Have a peppermint? You are my new best friend! Let me slobber on you. He had his head hanging out of that half stall door all day just watching everything with his ears pricked. He was very, very interested in it all and reminded of a toddler who refuses to go to bed because he just might miss something exciting.

One little girl absolutely fell in love with him and every time I turned around, there she was, telling him how beautiful and strong and good he was. She even told me she thought he and I looked beautiful together. Made my day.

It was kinda cool to see my big, handsome, silly, goofy wonderful guy at the center of attention for the day. He was definitely the biggest and flashiest horse showing that day and I may have swelled with pride just a bit.

I do believe he actually had fun and enjoyed all the excitement the day offered. I think we'll be doing that again.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The power of three

I did something this weekend that I haven't done in a very, very long time.

I rode three horses in one day, meaning, I spent ALL DAY in the saddle! It was so nice, although, by the end of the third ride I was definitely tired and a bit sore.

The first ride was long and energetic and I really worked Gabe and got him breathing hard and sweating. This is always an accomplishment, considering he's usually a lazy pants. We went out road riding, rode about six miles, maybe a bit more, and trotted most of it. He's fitter than I thought he was! We got some really, really good lofty, HUGE trot strides out of him. Holy cow. I couldn't even post when he moved up into the "power trot" it was so huge. I had to get into two point and just let it happen and stay out of his way while keeping him on the bit and rounded. If I tried to post it, I felt like he was going to throw me right out of the saddle with each stride...imagine riding a GIGANTIC bouncing ball, that's what his power trot feels like. Now, if I can figure out how to get that out of him in the arena, and not just out on the trails/roads! Guess I need to really start working on strengthening my abs so I CAN ride it well, instead of just getting up in to two point.

The second ride wasn't as long but it still required effort. I rode Montana for about 45 minutes. He's doing very well under saddle, but still has a bug up his butt about me doing anything unusual in the saddle. If I wiggle around or reach around to scratch his butt or side, he gets quite agitated by it. And, he's a dunderhead about standing still for mounting. I must have gotten on and off that horse, from the ground, a good 10 times during the ride, making him stand still during and after, sometimes just standing in the stirrup and leaning over the saddle and scratching his flank area (which he HATES and tried to dump my butt in the dirt). Why is mounting from the ground exhausting for me? Well, he's nearly 16hh and I'm a wee 5'2" tall and not quite as flexible as I used to be. I'm sure it's amusing to watch. By the end of the session, he was much, much more tolerant of all of it. Funny thing is, he doesn't care at all what you do to his flanks unmounted, but as soon as that saddle goes on and you mess with 'em, he has a tizzy. His halt and slow "buttons" are working well...don't even have to touch the reins to get a halt, just tighten the abs and sink into the stirrups and he stops or slows, depending on how much. He's coming along nicely...not as quickly as I had hoped, but we're getting somewhere.

Finally, it was Calypso's turn. I don't think I've ridden her for well over a year, but, she needs work. My daughter, love her to death, has been balancing on her face when she rides, and, unfortunately, that has turned Calypso's mouth hard as a rock. So, she's back in training for fitness and a tune-up while Jaquie works with Kayleigh on her balance. Kayleigh will be riding on the lunge line on Kahlua for awhile, at least until she has an independent seat. Anyway, by the time I got to Calypso, I really was done working horses, I just wanted to ride. So, I worked on softening her mouth for about 10 minutes then Jaquie and I went out for a short trail ride. Jaquie rode Chief (who also needs some work) and we just ambled along, nice and easy. I forgot what a pleasure it is to ride a good, broke, quiet trail horse who doesn't ask questions when you point her at something, she just does it.

I think Jaquie summed it up well at the end of the day: "We have a good herd of horses out there."

And she's right. They all have their individual quirks, but none of them are bad or dangerous or nasty horses and I'd be hard pressed to have to pick one to sell.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Happiness is...

finally figuring out how to get the big gray guy to load onto the trailer with another horse.

I have a two-horse slant load stock-type trailer, and while it is perfectly sized for my smaller beasts, it is about 8 inches too short (length wise) for Gabe to load comfortably (willingly and happily without panicking) at a slant with the divider in place. So, all the off-property riding I've done with Jaquie has involved him traveling, alone, in my trailer and her hauling their own horse. Her trailer is an older two-horse straight load and too short (height wise) for him. It was kind of stupid and very, very frustrating not to mention, not very economical on gas.

He will load and travel just fine with another horse without that divider in there making the space far too small. I can't believe we didn't figure that out before. Duh. Wrap up legs, load 'em up and off we go! We found a new, delightful area to ride just a 15 minute drive from the farm. Five miles of well-maintained trails through woods, hills, creeks and big open spaces for some faster gaits should we feel the need (which we did.) And, it's apparently a well-kept secret. It's not a commonly known place to ride, so I'm going to bet we pretty much will have the place to ourselves most of the time.

The Boys had fun and we had a blast. We'll definitely be heading back there regularly!

Life is good.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

It rains

The best reason to clean and oil your dust, sweat and horse-hair covered tack?

Why, ride in the rain, of course!

We've had copious amounts of rain for the past couple of days, (yes! FINALLY!) so of course, the arena is muddy and even with my new lights ready to make night riding a reality, I'm really reluctant to tear up the arena when it's so nice and smooth and lovely right now.

Of course, it decided to rain when I got home from work and decided I was going to ride anyway. Gabe was a turd while grooming and tacking up. He untied himself, tried to untie Teddy, chewed on Teddy's halter and pulled his own saddle pad off. He was one great big wet troublemaker! Brushing a wet, muddy horse is kind of pointless, by the way. And covering your saddle with a towel in the rain? Equally pointless.

We took off down the road and had a very good, energetic ride. Both boys were mostly well-behaved. Gabe was particularly full of energy on the way back and was convinced that an extremely collected canter was what I wanted, not a nice, big forward-moving trot. When he decides he doesn't want to really work at the trot, he slides on up into a canter that is almost slower than his walk and has very, very little forward movement. At least he doesn't try to run away!

By the way, a wet, muddy, sweaty horse is kinda stinky. And that stinkiness wafts upwards, just sayin'.

My bridle was soaked, my saddle soaked.

Which was as good a reason as any to finally get off my lazy butt and get it scrubbed clean and oiled. I'm typically very good about keeping my tack clean, but over the summer we rode SO much that it kind of fell to the wayside. I think it got cleaned maybe twice and it was definitely showing the neglect.

It all looks good now, so we can officially start our fall riding season in clean, oiled, waterproof tack. Gabe won't be embarrassed to be seen out in public in that filthy saddle any more.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Let there be light

After years of basically putting riding on hold during the dark winter months during the week,  I am beyond thrilled that that won't be the way of things this year.

I won't have to give up my riding or put my training on hold due to a lack of light this year because I now have *drum roll please!* arena lights! Yay! My honey spent the day putting together arena lights for me so we can ride at night all winter long and last night I gave them a test run and I'm pleased to say they worked wonderfully. I think we do need to add one more light at the far end of the arena, but other than that, it's fantastic! Granted, the arena isn't lit up enough to hold night time shows, but it suits my purposes more than adequately.

I have always dreaded the shorter days because I can't ride except on weekends and of course the training and fitness schedule gets abandoned. But this year, I'm actually looking forward to the shorter, cooler days because I love to ride in the cooler weather and I think Gabe does, too.

My husband put up the lights as a surprise for me...I didn't even know he was doing it until I got home from work and there they were! All I did was mention earlier in the week that I really wish I had lights because it was getting darker earlier and earlier. I think I mentioned it while I was riding Montana and it was already dark out by the time I finished up and got off. Such an awesome guy, I think I'll keep him.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Feel the burn!

The decision is unanimous, no question about it.

Gabe, Teddy, Jaquie and I all agree: Trot sets in two-point seriously suck rotten eggs. Oh, wow.

I know I should be riding in two-point more often, I've known this for years, but haven't done it very often. I used to do my two-point (with and without stirrups) diligently, every single ride. And I now remember why I just kind of stopped doing it, or, more specifically, my legs are screaming at me, reminding me why two-point sessions kind of faded from my training repertoire.

We did two (TWO!!!!) 10 minute trot sets last night on The Boys (Gabe and Teddy), in two-point (mostly). While The Boys got a wee bit bored, it didn't get either of them huffing or really sweating at all...but their human companions? Not so much.

I set the timer on my watch and off we went. After what seemed like 20 minutes Jaquie asks, gasping for breath, "How long has it been?"

I glance down at my watch and take note of the time passed.

I really don't want to tell her because I can't believe it myself. My legs are turning to jelly, my calves on fire as I hold myself in two-point and work on keeping Gabe moving forward as energetically as possible without falling forward on his neck.

"Four minutes," I tell her.

"WHAT?! I'm HOT! I'm sweating! Oh God."

"I know. It feels like FOREVER! I think my legs are going to fall off." And they really did. My right calf and thigh, which as always been my weaker leg, was BURNING.

"It's been the longest four minutes of my life! I'm dying!"

"I know!" I agree. "This sucks ass."

But we both know we need to do it. We've been doing more jumping and quite frankly, both of us need to concentrate on our base of support. We've been too lazy for too long and need to step it up.

It's a good start, and we'll keep at it, but man, you don't realize how very out of riding shape you are (even if you are in good physical shape!) until you try to do two-point for 10 minutes during a trot set and it feels like a freakin' eternity! But it certainly gives you a much, much higher appreciation and level of respect for those high-level eventing riders who stay up in two-point for the entire course, at a gallop, over fences.

At this point, I'm pretty sure if I tried going much longer than 10 minutes, my legs would give up and I'd just slide right off my horse.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

And a door opens

Sometimes all it really takes is asking the right question the right way to get the right answer. You'd think I'd know this by now! Gabe is very particular about how I ask him things, especially new things. He'll offer up everything he knows to try to get what he thinks I'm looking for (he lives to please, he really does) and I can't get mad because he's trying...I just haven't been asking in a language he understands.

My lesson this Sunday opened up a new door for us, one I've been struggling to open for quite a while.

Turns out, I was asking not only too much, but not asking quite right. Once I asked the question in a way he understood, you could see him think "Oh! That's what you want! Okay! You got it."

We have lateral movement! Yes! And it didn't take him long to figure it out...I think it took ME longer to ask the question most effectively.

See, I've been dropping my hip, which drops my shoulder, which puts me in a funky unbalanced position which, in turn, puts him in a funky, unbalanced position and he would kind of wiggle around like a snake: Haunches over here, body over there, head and neck somewhere else completely. Never quite achieving sideways.

All it took was me sitting straight, squeezing with my outside leg, using a shift in my body weight that's a lot like sliding sideways (his body mirrors mine!) while opening the inside rein and leg (turns out I was inadvertantly blocking with those, too), look in the direction I wanted to go and BAM! There he went, right over like it was no thing.

Granted, BAM! is a whole lot more little movement than big, a foot at a time (and I was expecting way too much sideways when I first started asking), but he has definitely figured it out. I learned too that I do have to look in the direction I want to go, not straight ahead, something I didn't realize I wasn't doing until it was pointed out. He taught me that fast...I was asking asking asking the right way with my leg and body and he wasn't getting it...and Cindy (my instructor) caught it fast as she walked behind us watching what I was doing. "Hey! Where are you looking?" Oh crap. Yeah, not looking where I wanted him to go! Turn my head, apply the aids, and over he went. And people think riding is just sitting there letting the horse do all the work!

When I rode again last night we worked on lateral movement (as well as impulsion, rhythm and rounding) and he got it. He might be getting it TOO much, I'd give the aids and he'd fly over sideways...not precisely what I want, but we'll work on tuning that, too. We want to keep it slow, a step or two at a time so he doesn't end up on the forehand or popping a shoulder or leaning too much to become unbalanced. Slowly but surely, we'll get there!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A day at Bramblewood Acres

Where, oh, where has all the good grass gone? Under the hummingbird feeder and chimes, of course!
Chickens? What chickens? Oh! Those chickens.

I have no idea how she climbed aboard Gabe. I looked out to check on him, and there she was. Just chillin'.
She said his rump was comfy. I guess it was. She took a nap while he was out grazing. He is such a different horse than he was 6 months ago. My big, goofy gelding is growing up!
Kahlua, weed eating around the fence for me. See, ponies ARE useful! A goat ate most of his tail, so, we trimmed it to it's most even length. And, we roached his awful, dry, mostly rubbed out mane. It's coming back in much softer and more healthy.
He doesn't have the cutest pony head on the planet, but he sure is a sweetie.
Montana, filling out nicely. He has been much easier to train than I thought he would be. So quiet, level-headed and smart. He's learning fast and so smooth to ride!
The elusive unicorn captured by the fair maiden. Does it count that she lassoed him?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Summer summed up

Wow. Where do I start? We have had a busy, busy and sometimes very frustrating summer.

We've been in a lingering drought and spent most of the summer trying to survive and keep all the critters as cool as possible in the crazy heat. Surprisingly, there was only one day we opted not to ride due to heat, and that was a 110-degree day. Absolutely miserable. Jaquie and I bathed our horses instead, and, of course, probably ended up more soaked than they did!

In July we had a lesson with one of my friends, who also happens to be a former jockey (she gets the TB brain!) and one of the best, most understandable instructors I've ever ridden with. Gabe picked up the rounding into the contact concept fairly quickly and has been eager to take the contact and round up beautifully into it for every ride since then, even out on trails. Yay Gabe! His topline is really developing nicely and riding him rounded and in contact is heavenly. You know that comparison where it should feel like you have a pair of silk threads in your hands when they are rounded and receptive? Yeah. It's like that. He gets sooo light, and feels like I'm operating a finely tuned Lamborghini rather than trying to lug around a freight train.  Amazing stuff, that contact and roundness.

The herd has grown. I went from three of my own (Gabe, Chief and Calypso), to a total of six four-legged hay burners on the farm. Teddy is Jaquie's, he's been around for a few months and is Gabe's bested friend ever.

Then, we added Montana, a 3-year-old pinto/walker cross for my fiancee'. (Oh, yeah, I got engaged, too! See, busy summer!) Montana is still green but about as quiet and calm as a been-there, done-that veteran. I've been working him regularly, basic trail knowledge, quietness and steady calm is my goal with him. He's learning FAST, is difficult to get rattled and has the smoothest gaits I believe I've ever sat. He did have an initial issue with getting very, very upset if I didn't anything unusual in the saddle, like wiggle around, flap my arms, swing my legs or pat him on the butt. A couple of sessions of just riding like a fool fixed that. I'm pretty sure Jaquie thought I was having seizures while riding him to desensitize him to random movements...hehe! But he got over it. He'll be a perfect trail horse for my man.

Finally,  Jaquie and I added a "project pony," Kahlua, to the herd. We picked up a young (2 rising 3 years) Welsh gelding, a medium-sized pony, for next to nothing. Our goal: Take this completely green and basically unbroke pony, train, show and eventually sell him. He is cute, loves the heck out of people and is willing and quick to learn. We'd like to cross train him on just about everything we can think of (English, hunter/jumper, driving, western and trail) and turn him into a safe little bombproof kid's pony. We'll see how it goes. So far, it's moving right along. Kayleigh rode him over the weekend and had fun on him. He's still really, really green so he's sticky on turning and transitions because he's still learning, but nothing seems to rattle him, yet.

Six horses. In a drought year when hay is already higher than I've ever seen it in my life. I must be crazy. We're making it work, though. We found a reliable hay provider who has very, very reasonable prices and will cut to our needs. My last provider kept falling through, failed more than once, and we decided we just can't keep trying to depend on an unreliable provider, especially not this year when we have six mouths to feed.  Just having a reliable provider is a HUGE weight off my shoulders. I was stressing pretty hard about where the hay was going to come from this year. It didn't help that the horses couldn't be on the pastures at all due to the drought and the completely dead fields. It's a good thing we started buying/storing hay early this year or we'd be in a world of hurt.

We added another paddock, moved a run-in to the new paddock and made the arena much bigger. Jaquie and I also built a jump course (yay! So much fun!) and have been taking a LOT of long, wonderful trail rides. Gabe is a completely different animal than he was six months ago. It's like he got over the juvenile, immature aspect and has finally matured into the horse I knew he could be. I love it. We can just plod along on the trails, completely loose reined, go past cows, plunk through creeks and go down steep banks and he never says "Nope! Not today." We've even had a few really, really nice, controlled (mostly!) gallops, which are always thrilling.

It's amazing what a little age and a lot of wet saddle pads will do. Highly advised. :P

The well has gone dry a few times and we've had to order water to refill it. Hopefully we'll get some good, drenching, long-lasting rain soon and bring that water table back up so the well can start refilling reliably on it's own.

My garden pretty much shriveled up and died. It was either water the garden or water the horses. Horses came first. Kind of a bummer since it started out the season looking AWESOME. I did get quite a few things canned and frozen, but not nearly the quantity I had hoped/expected.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

You can never have too many bits

I might have a rather significant collection of bits, but I don't use them all. In fact, some of them I've never used. Bits, for me, are a lot like shoes for other women. I just like them and I like to have plenty of options available, just in case.

Since I've had Gabe I've had a variety of bits in his mouth trying to find something he likes. From a big fat loose ring snaffle, to a loose-ringer Myler snaffle, to a double-jointed Myler D-ring, to a regular racing dee, a single-jointed eggbutt, a rubber mouth D-ring, a full-cheek and finally, a Baucher.

Each and every bit elicted a different, not entirely accepting, response from the big, picky guy. He absolutely hated the full-cheek snaffle and has been mildly accepting of the Baucher. He mouths and mouths and plays and gets above it and below it, twists his head and sometimes puts his tongue over it, no matter how little or how much contact I take up. His teeth aren't the issue, they've been checked.

He has a very narrow jaw and a low palate (like many Thoroughbreds) and I got to thinking...are these single jointed bits nut-crackering and irritating his palate and smushing his jaw? Even the double-jointed Myler had a mild port on it, so it would poke his palate.

I've been searching for a very specific bit for quite some time and for some reason, it's not carried by many tack shops. I don't like to buy my bits online, I like to hold them, feel their weight in my hands, examine the action over my arm and run my fingers over the metal to check for any scratches or burrs that might irritate. I also can't STAND a squeaky bit, so the joints must be fully tested, too.

A quick stop in my local tack shop finally struck gold. Of all the bits on the wall, there was only one of the type I was seeking: A double jointed eggbutt snaffle with a copper half-moon, in the right size. JACKPOT!

Even though there was no one else in the shop, I snagged that bugger as quickly as I could just in case it decided to poof into non-existence.  I hefted it, folded it over my arm, caressed the stainless steel, tested the joints and listened very carefully for any tell-tale signs of squeakiness. Nothing. It was perfect and beautiful.

I couldn't wait to get home to give it the Gabe test.

Guess what? He likes it! He likes it! So much excitement! After a few moments of mouthing it and sucking it up into his mouth to test it, something amazing happened - his mouth went still and I swear his eyes went soft and accepting. His mouth was completely quiet, his teeth stayed still and his tongue remained under the bit. That has NEVER happened with any of the other bits I've tried. His mouth stayed quiet and still the entire ride and he actually began reaching actively into it, white foam lipsticking his lips beautifully.

Our ride was fantastic. It felt good, he felt good, there was no head twisting or lip flapping or teeth grinding. I rode with very, very light contact and he kept reaching, reaching, reaching for the contact and every few strides rounded actively up into it with his ears pricked forward. Joyfulness!

Happiness is FINALLY finding a bit your horse loves. Especially when it's a nice, gentle, mild bit.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Oh, it hurts!

Last night we did something I've not yet felt comfortable enough with Gabe to do. Those who have been following our progress know that while, for the most part, Gabe is usually on an even keel, sometimes he has fairly explosive reactions to spooky things and can, for no discernible reason whatsoever, just be way too playful under saddle.

But, with him being such a star lately, I decided it was time to ride him bareback. Well, I didn't ride bareback, bareback, but rather threw my Baretek on him and went for a ride. For the record, I love my Baretek, all the benefits of bareback riding without the drawbacks (sweaty, hairy butt and legs, slippery back, etc.).

At first he didn't know what to think. He turned and looked at me when I first climbed aboard as if pondering what the heck I was doing. I know the feeling is different and he didn't know how to respond. I nudged him for a walk and got no reaction. Nudge again, still nothing. Kick and the lightbulb went off in his little TB head.

Did I mention I haven't ridden bareback or with the Baretek for YEARS? Holy mackerel. Apparently, I need to do it more often because within the first 10-15 minutes and a posting trot down the long side my inner thighs and hip flexors were SCREAMING in agony. My saddle, a multi-purpose eventing saddle that has a fairly forward seat, does not push my thighs back into a dressage position like the Baretek does. Yikes. Ouch! It is nice to know that I still have good balance though, even without stirrups. I dropped the reins a few times at the trot and held my arms out to the sides or above my head just to be sure I was riding with my seat, not balancing on his face. Most of the ride was done on a loose rein simply because I wanted to be sure I was using my body to balance and not his face.

Once we did as much posting and sitting trot as I could physically tolerate, we worked on tuning his sensitivity to my legs and seat (something nice and easy we could do at a walk and still accomplish a lot of what I've been wanting to work on with him.) He has always been sticky and very slow to respond to requests for lateral movement away from the pressure of my legs. By the end of the ride I think he finally GOT it. Yay! He does, however, respond beautifully to my seat for half-halts, halts and slowing/shortening his stride without any need for the reins. At least I got that part right in the training!

So, my goal now is to ride bareback at least once a week and really work on building my leg/ab strength, something that seems to have significantly diminished in riding exclusively in my saddle. It's good for me, and good for him, and now that I trust him so much more not to be a random nitwit, I feel comfortable doing it, too.

Happy trails!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Moooo-ving right along

Cows, we have conquered you. Go ahead and moo as we walk by, go ahead and run at us in your crazy drunken gait. Go ahead and stick your tongues up your noses because we just don't care.

Yes, it's true, Gabe has very nearly conquered his fear of the bovine kind. Three times during our Sunday ride the cows were present and he kept himself together. The first time the cows, a youngish herd full of bucks and moos, ran at the fence at us (what is it with cows being so fascinated by passing horses? I don't understand.) and followed along as we went up the road. And Gabe kept it together, I could feel him trembling beneath me, I could feel that big muscular body knot up in preparation to leave town, but he didn't. One slight balk from him, a few encouraging words and nudges from me and onward we marched. To add to the level of terror, the cows were above us on a ridge that runs along the road. So, not only were they loud AND following us, they were towering above us.

So proud of my big, brave guy. Lately it seems like a switch got flipped in his brain. He went from cautious, spooky, terrified baby to stoic, face-your-fears, give everything a try grown up. Such a delightful change. On-the-buckle trail rides have become the norm rather than the exception and the little things (like wind in the corn or a quail flying out of the grass near him) no longer send him into fits of white-eyed terror.

But, is it maturity, or simply the fact that we've been going out a lot more since Jaquie moved Teddy out to my farm and we now have someone to ride with? Maybe a combination of both. I don't know the answer, but I sure love the results!

And, he has discovered how much fun jumping can be. I have a small course set up, about 2' jumps and he gets so excited...ears prick forward and it seems like he really looks forward to a couple of times around the course. He doesn't get crazy excited or overly fast, but he certainly does seem like he enjoys it...a lot! And so far, he's gone over everything I've pointed him at, even the scary barrels. Next...I'm building a scary liverpool and a super scary brush box stuffed with the most hideous fake flowers I can find.

Life is good!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Simple Things

Sometimes it's the little things that make the biggest difference.

You may recall the problems I've had with Gabe in convincing him that my trailer won't eat him alive. He would put one hoof on, then two, then freak out and fly backwards out of the trailer. Over and over and over again. It's an open stock-style slant load two horse's not crowded and it's not dark and scary, at least not in my humble human opinion.

However, what it is, is noisy. I started thinking about the difference between my stock slant load and my friend's stock slant load. Basically, the exact same trailer and he gets on hers just fine. So, what's his issue?

Then, it hit me.

Every time he's loaded on to her trailer she had a nice, thick layer of sawdust on the floor. Could it really be that simple? Surely not!

Yet, it really was. All it took to get him loaded happily on my trailer was a nice thick layer of shavings on the floor. That stuff is a serious sound buffer and probably helps him feel more stable and solid on the floor. The trailer didn't echo and rattle when he stepped on it and as soon as he realized that, up he went.

Yay! So, of course, we hit the road with Calypso and Teddy (my friend Jaquie's horse) and headed out for a nice, long trail ride away from home.

It was lovely. The horses were fabulous, Gabe was happy to be out and very excited but not naughty. Every creek, mud hole, hill, log and ditch we came upon he navigated without question. Such a good boy! He made me proud and he garnered a few "what a beautiful horse" comments from several other trail riders at the state park. I have to agree with them, he is a good-looking critter and it also seems he's finally maturing a bit out of his silly baby stage into a level-headed, braver horse who seems to be taking things in stride more often rather than just reacting to things he doesn't understand.

The only little oops on the entire ride happened towards the end as we were heading back...and of course, it's something that would happen only to me.

We stopped in a creek to let the horses drink and cool off a bit. Gabe absolutely loves water and will stand in it and play in it for as long as you'd let him. So, I let him play. It was hot, he was sweaty and it was a good time to just stand and take a break. He dunks his head in the water, blows bubbles, flaps his lips around in it, paws and splashes and grunts and just has a good ole time. He tried rolling but thankfully didn't.

Then, it happened.

He lifted his head and gave his whole body a mighty shake. Nearly shook me right out of the saddle, and, as he nearly shook me right out of the saddle, he shook his bridle right off his head!

What the heck?! I've never had a bridle just fall off my horse's face while I'm riding! So, there I am, holding empty reins and sitting on a horse in a creek who I'm pretty sure won't run off but I'm not pretty sure won't roll in the cool water if given the chance. Only me. Wow.

Thankfully Jaquie was right there near his head sitting on Teddy and she managed to help pull his bridle back on with no problems. The only thing I can figure is the bridle leather got slick and maybe stretched a bit after our long, sweaty ride and when he added water to the already slick and sweaty mix it added up to a too loose bridle that happily slid off his face when he gave that tremendous shake.

Ahh...horses, it's always something new.  A good time was had by all and that big, wet, gray beast got right back on the trailer and settled in for the ride home. He was even comfortable enough in the trailer that he stretched out and peed in the trailer while we made a pit stop at a local gas station.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Muddy mud mud

Don't look at me like that. You are absolutely FILTHY!

Really Gabe? EVERYWHERE?

I think we could probably make another whole horse outta that.

OH, there IS a gray horse under all that mud.

Yup, even had to scrub the face. There was mud on his eyelashes. What a pretty boy.

Better. Almost gray again, but still kinda mud tinged. He needs a bath.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Where can I buy horse-sized, extra-strength bubble wrap?

It's always something, isn't it? Again, I lament, even if we wrapped them up in bubble wrap and locked them snugly away in a padded stall they'd still manage to find some insane way to injure themselves.


I was sitting in my intellectual property law class at 8:30 p.m. when the first ominous text came through: "Call as soon as you can." Oh, that can't be good.

Then the second came through shortly later, this one from my daughter: "Gabe was very bad! He broke through the fence at the top paddock! A lot of poles are bent, two lost the caps, almost all of them have a torn down wire."

Oh. Crap. I'm an hour away from home, it's dark out and I'm in the middle of a lecture I can't just get up and sneak out of. So of course, I'm freaking out and mentally trying to urge the professor to talk faster and get us out early.

He did. I called home immediately to find out what was going on and if I should start panicking or if the vet needed to be called out again. I just had him out a few weeks ago because the big gray guy was colicking. Always something!

I learned that yes, he had gone through the fence, and yes, he did have some injuries. But, my boyfriend is still learning about horse first aid and couldn't tell me how bad the wounds were. "Well, they are bleeding but they aren't gushing blood." he relayed. He is very observant about the horses' behavior and noticed that Gabe just didn't seem to be his typical self: He wouldn't eat and seemed depressed but did have good gut sounds and wasn't acting like he was colicking, just not himself.

Still an hour away from home all I could do was drive (while keeping it at a safe, mostly legal speed!) and imagine the absolute worst.

When I got home I immediately pulled on the headlamp and went out to check out my guy. Yup, he was definitely cut up, but nothing to call the vet over. He has some cuts on his left stifle and cuts on his right forearm. He wasn't lame, but that rear leg was swollen and sore. I'm guessing he tried to go OVER the fence at a post and failed to clear it. All I have to say is thank GOODNESS I have every single post capped. The injuries would have been much more severe, perhaps even fatal, if he'd tried to go over a capless post and hung up on the top electric rope. And thank goodness I use electric rope with insulators that will break under pressure...if the fence hadn't given and the insulators broke to drop the fence to the ground, the injuries could have very well been significantly worse.

I scrubbed him up good with Betadine, sprayed the cuts with an antibiotic and dosed him with some bute to alleviate some of that soreness.

He was eating fine (had to soak a bit of grain to mix with the bute) and seemed to be himself again, so colic wasn't a worry any longer.

This morning he was still sore, but not lame, and the wounds look good and clean. Chief, however, also appears sore but he didn't go through the fence so I'm wondering what happened to my horses up in the pasture while no one was home.

What could have made Gabe go through the fence? He typically respects the fence and doesn't test it or push on it or even go near it unless he's face-fighting with Chief. He knows it bites hard and he tends to avoid that bite. What could have not only made Gabe freak out enough to go through the fence, but also apparently freak Chief out enough that he ran until he was sore?

I don't know, but I have a couple of guesses. The neighbor's peacocks are in super-roam mode again and my horses DO NOT LIKE the peacocks at all. My best guess is the peacocks paid the horses a visit and freaked them out, add to that the fact that the farmers were out in the field next to the pasture yesterday, which usually doesn't bother the horses but if you combine a couple of big tractors, dust and peacocks, it may have been enough to send them all into a tizzy. Ugh.

I hate mysteries like this, not knowing what caused the issue in the first place so I can try to prevent it from happening again.

And now I have a damn fence to fix.'s a damn good thing I love 'em as much as I do.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A bit of this and that

We had another fabulous, long ride off the property again and Gabe was 50 percent better this time than he was last week. Our only issues: The cows (surprise, surprise) and a dog that appeared out of nowhere barking and lunging at us like a rabid lunatic.

Other than those two things, he was fabulous. And those two things were minor as he responded more like I expect him to respond in uncertain, scary situations. Instead of stopping and absolutely refusing to move forward AT ALL, he kept moving forward but also moved sideways while keeping a watchful eye on the advancing herd of deadly cattle and Cujo. Good boy!

Oh, and he did react to a HUGE tractor that rumbled by us hauling a disker and two anhydrous ammonia tanks. He's seen tractors many, many times, just not one as huge and noisy as this one, so his reaction was not unexpected.

Kayleigh rode Chief and my friend Jaquie rode Calypso and all were very good (Calypso was a wee bit on the up side, but settled down after 20 minutes into the ride). We rode about six miles, and after the first mile, Gabe was chugging along at a good walk...ON THE BUCKLE and very relaxed. So pleasant.

Worked Gabe in the arena Monday afternoon and he was very good. My stupid dog kept dashing out of the brush lining the arena right under his nose and disrupting his attention. If the dog runs behind him, he doesn't seem to mind too much, but when she's under his nose, he hates it. But, he needs to get used to it if he's going to be a good field hunter. Can't have him reacting adversely to every canine that appears out of nowhere, especially out on a hunt. So, although it's a pain in the butt, it's something he needs to get used to.

We worked on bending, turns on the haunches and canter departs. Turns on the haunches are coming along nicely, bending is improving bit by bit, but canter departs, oh, are they ever ugly. You know what I mean...trot faster faster faster faster THEN pick up the canter...inevitably on the wrong lead. So, we spent a whole lot of time re-gathering ourselves into a nice trot and trying again and again. We got a couple of decent departs, but nothing to get terribly excited about. It's just one of those things and we'll get it together eventually. Despite the terrible departs, his canter is so, so nice. It's one of those delightful canters you could ride all day long, so smooth, so "up", so powerful. It always makes me grin, and maybe giggle a little bit because it's just so FUN!

Also practiced loading on the trailer a bit and he's definitely getting better. I'm not pushing him to the point that he gets all worked up, but I do expect him to make an effort. Kayleigh doesn't understand why I just don't force him to get on and make him stay there. I could, but I want the whole trailer experience to be pleasant so when he sees it he WANTS to get on, not the opposite. I never, ever want there to be a question about whether he'll get back on the trailer if we go somewhere else! Imagine, stuck out in the middle of nowhere, hours from home with night approaching, and the horse refuses to get back on the trailer. No thanks! For me, that knowledge that he will happily load, no matter where we are, is well worth the time and the patience I have to have with this.

Happy trails!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Let the trail riding season begin!

I am sunburnt. Gabe is sleepy and as of this morning, is not body sore.

By my best guess, we rode about 12 miles yesterday, all told in just around 3.5 hours. My friend Jaquie brought her delightful pony gelding, Teddy, over to the farm Sunday morning and out we went to see what we could see.

It is by far the longest ride I've had him out on and I truly think he enjoyed all the sights and sounds.

We took a route I've never been down before, roads I've never even driven and discovered some absolutely delightful back roads that were very isolated and not busy at all. The horses were very good and although we had a few moments, Gabe was wonderful.

At first we did have some lack of desire to go forward issues and he'd dribble slower and slower until almost a halt. I tried squeezing him forward and got no response and (failing to bring with me a whip), I had to come up with some other way to convince him to step up the pace. So, I imagined having on a pair of rowel spurs and I "rolled" my heel up his side. Oh, did THAT ever surprise him the first time I did it and he SHOT forward! So I stayed on it, every time he dribbled, I rolled, and he picked up the pace immediately. It didn't take long for him to figure out that it was just easier to keep on marching forward instead of slowing slowing slowing into a halt.

As is typical of most farms, dogs ran out barking at us (there were a good number of hounds!), hackles high, appearing out of nowhere from nearly every house we passed. The first 3 or 4 times it happened Gabe was pretty darn sure they were going to gnaw his legs off at the pasterns and gave them the hairy eyeball while skittering across the road away from them.

By the end of the ride he didn't give the approaching barking (or baying) dogs a second glance while we marched along on the buckle. He also figured out by the end of the ride that I don't care if he wants to turn his head to look at something as long as he keeps walking forward.

We had a few very, very nice canters and he was popping over ditches and water-filled culverts like an old pro without even a second glance at them.

He saw his first herd of donkeys and quite frankly, I think he was more worried about those long-eared beasts than he was about the dogs! I told those donkeys as we walked by and they all ran up to the fence to see us that they were allowed to watch, but none of them was allowed to speak! I just knew that if one of them opened up and let loose a bray, it would be all over for Gabe's mostly-calm and collected self. We passed a herd of Belgian mares with a couple of foals that thought we were just awesome and came galloping up to the fence to see us. A galloping herd of Belgian's makes A LOT of noise! Those hooves surely do thunder and shake the ground. After we passed the herd decided to gallop to catch up to us and Gabe wasn't quite sure what to think about that. His tail curled up over his back (imagine Arab), and he started prancing and blowing hard (trumpeting like a stallion!) at that thundering herd of drafts. Such a silly boy, but even with those crazy antics he continued to listen to me and never did I feel like he had tuned me out and stopped listening, a HUGE step forward for both of us.

All in all, a long but fantastic ride and I'm looking forward to many, many more.

Jaquie is planning to move Teddy out to our place in two weeks and we're all pretty excited about it. Teddy is great little horse and I really look forward to having an adult around to go riding with and help build my cross-country course and add a few more trails around the place.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Days of No Go

When most people hear Thoroughbred off-the-track they typically think "Oh, crazy and fast!"

Which can be true, in part. I like to think of them more as "sensitive and responsive," and LIKE my personal riding horses that way.

But, Gabe, oh, he is a conundrum. He is neither crazy, nor is he fast. Which you would think automatically leads to "lazy and dull." Which is he is not. Usually.

There is a reason he is no longer on the track running his big Thoroughbred heart out. And it's because he was an absolute failure. He won his first two races then decided, "eh, this isn't for me, I don't wanna." So he didn't. Once he decides he's really not interested in doing something he just doesn't. Pretty simple.

There are rides when he's on it. Moving forward, responding wonderfully and quickly and just there, almost anticipating my requests.

Other times he's like riding a plow horse with freight train controls. There is no go, there is no turn and stop or lollygag about are about the only gaits he excels at. Think Eeyore general attitude on these days. It can be SOOOO frustrating to be up there, giving the cue, giving the cue, giving the cue and your horse just ignores you. You KNOW he knows what you want but decides that compliance isn't at the top of his list today.

I've tried the whisper, tell, yell method and given him three chances to give me the right answer and usually fail. So, to the 'net I go, looking for suggestions, knowing the answers I will most likely find.

“The biggest thing causing a non-responsive horse, is the rider giving too many aids,” states dressage rider and coach Gary Vander Ploeg emphatically. “We are taught as green riders to give lots of aids, that is, look busy on the horse, and we are not taught how to be passive. The worst thing we can do is to ‘drive stronger’ and ‘grip with your legs’ with these horses, because we are actually training them to be dull.” From a article.

Yup. Exactly what I knew I'd find. It's never the horse, it's always the rider. So, how do I fix this problem?

Again, I knew the answer but it always helps me to see it and read it before I put it into practice.

Gabe no longer gets three chances. He gets ONE. Because he knows what the answer is, he just doesn't feel like answering at that moment.

I will no longer be that nagging rider, begging my horse to comply with my request, being along for the ride. I will be the leader in this relationship and he doesn't get to decide he doesn't feel like responding.

One light cue and when I get no response, he gets a whack with the stick. I don't think it will take him long to figure out it's just easier to "follow the leader." He's a smart horse. Smart enough that he's managed to get me exactly where he wants me...complying with HIS decisions on the days he really just doesn't wanna.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Colic is a four-letter word

Sometimes it seems that no matter what precautions you take, how hard you work to keep your horses' living space as safe as possible or the efforts you make to keep them as healthy and happy as possible, something is bound to go wrong.

That's why it's a common theory that even wrapping our equine friends up in bubble wrap and keeping them in a padded stall wouldn't make a difference. They'd still manage to find a way to injure or sicken themselves. I'm pretty sure most of them are subconsciously suicidal.

Gabe colicked last weekend.

Colic is a horse owner's worst nightmare, in my opinion. I've lost two wonderful horses to colic and it's not something I ever take lightly. You never know whether your colicking horse simply has a little painful gas or something far worse, like a twisted gut or perforated intestine.

You just never know. And often you just never know what causes it. For such powerful, beautiful, wonderful animals, horses sure are delicate creatures.

I knew instantly when I saw him Saturday morning that things were not right in Gabe's world. One more advantage to having them at home: I know them, I know how they typically behave and I know something is wrong where someone else might not immediately recognize subtle signs and changes.

Gabe had all the classic colic symptoms: He was biting at his side, anxious, throwing himself to the ground, laying out flat then getting up to throw himself down again, walking in circles, pawing, sweating, breathing hard and obviously in pain.

He had almost no gut sounds on one side and very weak gut sounds on the other. He passed a few very hard, dry poop balls and it took him some effort to do even that.

There was no question in my mind that he was colicking and also no question that the vet would be called.

But I always wonder whether or not I should dose a colicking horse with Banamine before I call the vet. Will the Banamine mask symptoms? Am I doing additional harm to a horse who may already be dehydrated?

My mom is a vet, but unfortunately lives all the way on the other side of the country, so having her come out to treat my horses is kind of out of the question.

But I can call for advice and call I did. I guess it was about 5 a.m. her time and I woke her up, but thankfully, hearing her voice on the other end calmed me down and helped me think more clearly.

No Banamine, she advised, unless my vet gave the okay.

Thankfully my vet is only 15 minutes away from my farm, so he was there pretty quickly. By that time Gabe was feeling a bit better, but still, I don't mess around with colic and I take no chances.

Poor guy was subjected to the indignity of a rectal exam and a tube up his nose for a good dose of oil. He got a sedative and a pain reliever and was pretty out of it but started to really feel better a couple of hours later.

The vet found no distended intestine indicating gas, nor could he find any twisted gut. So, who knows what caused Gabe so much pain.

But what if he HAD had a twisted gut and needed surgery to fix it? Would I put him through a major surgery?

This is something all horse owners should ask themselves before it happens and really think about what it logically and honestly before faced with it emotionally.

My answer is no, I wouldn't. For all of my horses. The answer to colic surgery will always be no in my book. And it's not because I don't love my horses and not because I wouldn't be heartbroken to have to make that decision, but considering it now, before I have to make that kind of decision, I know it would be the wisest and best one to make.

Not only do I not have the facilities to keep a horse on stall rest for months, but I also know any one of mine would be absolutely miserable locked up for months and the possibility of developing other post-surgical complications is likely.

Colic surgery is not only incredibly expensive, it is also incredibly risky and there is no guarantee that the horse won't colic again and no guarantee that he will survive the surgery and healing process either.

I hope I never, ever have to make that decision, but at least I know what that decision would be if it came down to it.

What would you do if faced with that decision?

Friday, March 16, 2012

A girl and her horse

The kid has decided that barrel racing is a lot of fun. And honestly, Calypso looks much better as a Western horse than she ever did decked out in English gear.

She's starting to give me a hard time about wearing the helmet though. "It itches and makes my head sweat," says she. I grew up riding helmet-less, but for some reason, I just cringe thinking about her riding without one. So, until she's 18 and old enough to make that decision on her own, she'll wear it. I think the camo pants are a fabulous fashion statement. Ha! And please ignore the mare's muddy legs and mane, I am still working on convincing Kayleigh to more thoroughly groom before tacking up. We'll get there.

Don't they look cute together? Not only has she been running the mare on barrels, she has also been starting to rope off her. Thank goodness that mare is so accepting and quiet, cause all that stuff is new to her and she just takes it in stride. Last summer Kayleigh spent a month with her Nana in California and apparently was paying quite a bit of attention to her Grandpa Jerry when he was introducing his colt to the lasso. When she decided to introduce Calypso to the lasso she said "And when Jerry got Wrangler used to the lasso, he did this," and she rubbed the lasso all over Calypso, let her smell it and slapped her lightly all over her body with it. Calypso didn't flinch. Then, later, after a reminder, she also let that mare step on the rope and slid it beneath her tail. She has been dragging it on the ground when she rides now, too. Next step, tossing it from the saddle and whirling it around her.

So far, the mare has taken it all in stride. What a good girl, and what a good start for Kayleigh to learn how to train a horse!

I'm thrilled to death that Kayleigh's interest in horses seems to be growing. She has ridden that mare more in the past two weeks than she has all winter and she comes home from school and wants to ride. She's been going out by herself more often too, something I've been encouraging.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Spring fever!

When March hands you 80-degree and sunny days in the Midwest, you don't waste them.

Guess who has ridden more in the past week than she has all winter? This woman! Yay!

And I can definitely see a difference in Gabe. Good differences! We have been moving forward instead of backwards or going over the same ole stuff yet again.

But I'm kind of afraid of what this early, record warmth might mean for our already hot and humid summers....*shudder*

Monday, March 12, 2012

An eye-opener

You can learn a lot about the personality of your horse just by sitting back and watching him or her be a horse.

I learned a thing or two about Gabe this weekend that may help me deal with the way he reacts to things that worry/scare him, such at the umbrella, the cows, etc. etc.

For some reason Sunday he decided there was something REALLY SCARY in his run-in shed. He would not go near it, even though he knew his feed tub was full of warm, yummy breakfast. By the way, there was nothing in his shed. I checked and double checked. Not a thing. Sometimes I think he sees things.

Anyway. He refused to go in there long enough to finish his breakfast and eventually, once I opened all the gates, Chief and Calypso finished it for him. Obviously, if they were willing to go stand in Gabe's run-in and gobble up his breakfast, there was nothing in there to worry about.

Evening rolled around, Gabe had avoided and given his run-in the stink eye all day. So, I put everyone in their appropriate paddocks, fed, and sat on the deck to just watch Gabe. I knew he was still being crazy about the run-in but I wanted to watch him deal with it on his own.

He knew dinner awaited him. All he had to do was overcome his fear of going in to his shed.

He started out in the farthest corner from his shed, standing there just watching the shed, ears pricked at it, body a big hard ball of tension and muscle ready to flee.

After a few minutes of him just staring at it, he dropped his head and walked forward with purpose about 20 good strides. Then stopped and stared at it again, decided it was still too terrifying, whirled and cantered back to the corner where he started the whole process again.

Each time he did that he stopped closer to the shed and ran less further away from it.

Classic approach and retreat method done all on his own.

He was confronting his worry and his uncertainty in baby steps, but he was definitely trying to defeat his fear on his own terms. Two steps forward, one step back, until he finally got to the entrance, stepped inside, took a bite, then whirled and ran back out again to stand about 15 feet from the entrance. He did this for a good 20 minutes before he finally decided it was safe enough to go in and enjoy dinner.

Now that I know, for certain, how he approaches worry and uncertainty and fear on his own, I can work that into how I approach it with him in the saddle. I realized as I watched him that he does the exact same thing under saddle, but WATCHING him do it, instead of having to ride that, was extremely eye-opening. It's a whole different ball game when you can watch them behave in a certain way and know why they are behaving that way than try to deal with it when you are atop them, especially the whirl and run away part!

If the approach, retreat method, done slowly and on his terms, is what helps him deal with it, then that's what we'll do and hopefully that will end the long, drawn-out battles we get in to over passing something that's a little too scary for him. Eventually though, I hope we won't have to go through that, that he will learn to trust my judgment enough that he will just march forward without the retreat!

We'll see how it goes, but it was definitely interesting to see him deal with something like that on his own.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Horse Fair: I love you, I hate you

I have a love/hate relationship with equine fairs, symposiums, gatherings, etc. etc.

I love to go and learn new stuff, see examples of breeds I rarely come in contact with, meet new people and of course, shop!

We spent the entire day and evening Saturday at the Illinois Horse Fair. As usual, it was freaking cold and windy, but a great way to spend the day.

I always leave feeling not only energized and ready to get on with the training thing and eager to try new things, but also very disappointed in where my training has gone so far.

Shouldn't I be able to get my horses to bow, sit, lay down, stand on a "table" and respond to me by doing really cool stuff at liberty by now? Shouldn't I be able to drag a tarp behind my beasts, jump them through flames and walk them into a loud, bright coliseum/arena fully confident they won't bat an eyelash at all the noise and activity?

But I can't. Heck, I can't even get Gabe to walk past an umbrella without him coming unglued. Most of the time he's in my space on the ground and refuses to stay put when I try to "park" him somewhere and walk away from him. He follows me instead of standing still. Very frustrating and I know I should have him at the point where he'll stay where I put him and back away from me on the ground without me having to touch him. He should be at the point where he walks past anything I ask him to, no questions asked, confident that I won't lead him into a dangerous situation. But we're not there yet and some days, I really don't think we ever will be.

The good thing is that I know I am capable of training him to do all the cool "tricks" you always see at those horse fairs. I also know I am fully capable of training him to be the quiet, confident, eager, brave mount I know he can be. My biggest issue is time, especially during the dark months when I have no outdoor lighting and especially right now when my weeks are full with working and going to school every evening. I know the school thing won't last forever (I'll be done this summer, yay!) but I still get frustrated and find myself thinking: Why do I even bother? I should just sell the farm, rent a cheapo apartment and board the horses somewhere with an indoor arena and lighting so I can ride at 11:30 p.m. when class is done during the week, where I can ride and work my horses in all kinds of weather conditions

But I know I wouldn't be happy. Not one bit. You take the ups with the downs when you keep your horses at home. Sure, the winter and fall have really become no-ride seasons for me, but I think that's the way it is for quite a few horse owners who have their horses at home.

I wouldn't trade the convenience of a boarding barn for the pleasure of waking up in the morning and looking out the window to see my horses waiting patiently (or, not so patiently if I'm running late!) at the gate for their breakfast, or the sublime thrill of being able to watch them run like demons around the pasture, bucking and rearing, galloping and playing with each other. That's a thrill like no other and one of my greatest pleasures.

Despite the love/hate relationship I have with horse fairs, the Illinois Horse Fair this past weekend did reap one great big benefit for us. We met a woman who is the director of a riding club INCREDIBLY CLOSE TO US!!!! Membership is comprised of kids and adults and the group puts on "fun shows" twice a month starting in May. They do group events and trail rides and have a lighted arena that's open 24/7 for members to use. They are in the process of adding all-weather footing to the arena, so, even if it isn't an indoor arena, it's still usable all year long. Yay! That alone is worth the $20 annual family membership fee. The woman was fabulous and we just happened to strike up a conversation while eating lunch at the fair and talking about the super cheesy nachos. Very excited about this group, and Kayleigh is too.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Umbrella

Once upon a time there was a big green and white and brown deck umbrella that made it's home peacefully propped up in a table on the deck.

Then, one night, a big storm blew up, snapped the wood pole of that huge umbrella and sent it flying over the house, bouncing across a pasture and dumped unceremoniously into the fence where it got stuck.

And the horses freaked.

Big time freaked and snorted, ran and blew loud blasts of air from their flaring nostrils. They ran in circles, tails over their rumps, heads high, sweat soon steaming off their bodies. And Gabe did his best to stay firmly and safely behind the other two just in case that big, horse-eating, open-mawed monster decided to extricate itself from the fence and come after them. He didn't have to outrun the umbrella, he only had to outrun Chief and Calypso. The logic of horses is simple.

I watched them act like morons for several hours then decided to head out and remove the umbrella from the fence myself. The wind in the open umbrella was doing nothing to help preserve the tautness of my fence and really, I was kind of tired of looking at it there. It depressed me. Those things are pricey and this one was pretty shredded and beyond saving.

I pulled it out of the fence, closed it up and dumped it on the other side of the fence by the driveway to pick up later. Besides, I figured the horses needed ANOTHER heart attack and could just deal with it being there.

Later that day, completely forgetting the big scary horse-devouring umbrella was still sunning itself between the driveway and the fence, Kayleigh and I went out for a ride, she on Calypso bareback, me on Gabe. He was being fabulous: Quiet and responsive and just good, especially considering I haven't been able to ride for a couple of weeks.

Then, he saw it. The big scary horrible horse eating umbrella on the ground. Oh. My. God.

Remember this trail ride disaster?

Same thing, but take away cows and instead insert inert, yet terrifying, umbrella.

Wow. He wouldn't go near that thing until I got off (I will not admit to maybe having some help getting off when the rearing and general idiocy really kicked in) and led his big ass over to it. If I went first, he had no issues. I could kick it, drag it, wiggle it, touch him with it, open it in front of him and make him walk back and forth over it, which I did, repeatedly until he relaxed, which really took a very, very short time.

Then I got back on and he freaked out again and absolutely, positively refused to get near it. Images of glue and dog food and yes, even horse steaks, were flitting through my head. I even imagined a nice horse-skin rug in front of the fireplace.

All I have to say it's a darn good thing I've learned a butt load of patience since my not-so-patient youth.

Finally, he gave in and sidled up to it sideways and wide-eyed, then stepped over it, snorting.

Turn around, go back over. Turn around, go back over. Rinse and repeat for about half an hour at all gaits. I got off and moved it again, back to where it was when I pulled it from the fence and tossed it between the fence and driveway.

Meltdown #3 and he absolutely refused to walk by it until I got off and led him by it in both directions. What is it with this horse? Seriously. I don't get it. Calypso pricked her ears at it, sidled sideways, snorted, then went by it when it was still in the ditch the first time and got over it entirely.

Gabe, a completely different story. If I'm leading him, he's fine. If I'm on him, it's no longer okay. If I move the thing he had been going back and forth over so much it became boring, it's a brand new big scary horrible thing and we're back to square one.

I'm trying to unravel how his brain works, but I'm starting to think that maybe it doesn't. Suggestions? Ideas? Clues? I'm running out of them.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Mist

My only conclusion is: Aliens stole his ever-lovin' mind and replaced it with mashed potatoes.


Gabe absolutely, completely and entirely lost it Sunday afternoon. Sure, it was quite foggy out, sure it was quiet and still and wet, maybe my dumb dog did decide that running mad circles around us and under us was a good idea and perhaps Chief was being a little stupid too, but that was no excuse for Gabe to behave the way he did.

This was his worst behavior ever and honestly, it scared me. Not because he threatened to throw me and run away, but because he was spinning in tight little circles, cantering sideways (I think we may have even cantered backwards a couple of times), blowing hard, tucking his chin to his chest and hopping, tossing his head and trying to rear and spin at every. little. sound. We didn't even make it halfway down the driveway when Chief (whom Kayleigh was riding bareback) spooked sideways, snorted and startled the crap out of Gabe, immediately putting him on an even higher level of stupid. I was more worried that we would slip and fall in the mud and occasional patch of ice or go sideways down a ravine than I was worried he'd run off with me. Running off I can handle, horse falling on me, I cannot. I got off, put him on the line and worked with him for a bit trying to get him to switch from reactive to thinking side of brain.

Failure. Massive. He was good and long gone, deep into his reactive, flighty brain and there was just not a whole lot I could do to get him back without risking a slip and fall. That's how awful he was. Because it wasn't just mud, it was a layer of mud over permafrost. Super super slick. Even the grass was slick. Ugh.

But I couldn't untack him and put him away after this awful, horrible, no good, extremely dangerous kind of behavior. So, into the arena we went with the idea to just work and work and work at the walk until I got his brain back. I wanted to avoid the arena in the first place (which is why we were heading down the driveway) because it was wet and I didn't want to destroy it. Fail.

The fog was heavy and dripping from the trees. It was misty, my face, helmet, saddle and horse soaked from it. The whiteness oozing around the trees and deep into the wood was heavily, eerily quiet. A still, deep kind of quiet that Stephen King writes about. I understand why he lost it, but that is no excuse, it's not even a good reason, period.

So we walked (kind of), flexed left and right (he got my toe popped in his nose a few times for biting), circled, halted, backed, more flexing, lots of stop and go. I flopped and flapped around on his back, I yelled into the woods so it would echo eerily back, I made him walk into the woods where he DIDN'T want to go ("Heart attacks are free. Give your horse one every day." - Clinton Anderson) and did everything he didn't want to do (at a walk-jig-wiggle) until he decided to just WALK. Whew. Who knew walking quietly was so damned HARD!?

Once I got the walk and he could stay at the walk without jigging, jogging, shimmying or scurrying, we trotted. And trotted. And trotted. I circled and circled and circled on a loose rein, keeping him moving forward until he sighed, dropped his head and licked his lips and I felt him really give in and relax. There is a big, muddy, icky circle in my arena now. Nice.

It only took 45 minutes to go from OH MY GOD I'M DYING!!! YOU'RE DYING! WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!! over-reactive to relaxed and licking his lips quiet. Yeah. Only 45 minutes. Ha! I don't know what got into him, but it was completely unexpected and entirely out-of-character for both him and Chief. I do expect the occasional silly stupids from Gabe, I can handle the silly stupids and usually do so with a smile and a correction, but this was dangerous and scary, and I don't typically get scared easily in the saddle. If he behaved regularly like he behaved Sunday, I'd be worried about getting on him and he'd most likely find himself in a new home pretty quick.

Whew. Dumb horses.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Keepin' 'em healthy

Apparently I spoke too soon about having unseasonably warm weather.

It got cold and dumped ice and snow on us. Fun! Thank goodness the water tank heaters are working. I can deal with just about any aspect of winter that comes with having horses, but breaking ice I absolutely ABHOR.

Actually, instead of getting cold and staying cold, Mother Nature has been at the roulette table again. A day before the ice and cold it was 60+ degrees out. It got so damn cold and windy and snowy Thursday and Friday I ended up calling the farrier and giving him the option to reschedule. I don't have a proper barn so standing out there in the wind and cold and snow makes farrier work absolutely miserable. He rescheduled and I am glad he did! I don't like standing out there any more than he does! Their hooves actually look really, really good at the moment and it won't hurt hurt them one bit to wait a couple of weeks. Calypso has a touch of thrush in her front feet, but she always seems to have a touch of thrush, no matter how often I treat it.

Monday this week it was again 60+ degrees. Then it rained and rained and thunderstormed and hailed and the wind gusted like no one's business. Think Midwestern spring weather.

That evening, it turned frigid and cold again.

Weather like this is a horse owner's nightmare.

Colic is always a worry when the weather won't settle into something stable for a while. The constant change from warm to cold to warm to cold wreaks havoc on our poor beasts. And there's not a whole lot you can do to prevent it but keep them as hydrated, moving and as full of hay as they want to be. That's why I absolutely love my tank heaters and will never go through a winter without them. I know that my horses always have unfrozen, slightly warm water to keep their finicky digestive tracts moving like they are supposed to. And the extra helps too, not only to keep them toasty warm even on the most frigid nights, but to keep something in those guts. I'm a HUGE advocate of feeding well-soaked beet pulp during the winter, too, anything to help get as much water into them as possible, especially when it's cold and I know they tend to decrease their water intake. I think the horses really enjoy their morning and evening meals of steaming beet pulp, especially when sometimes I'm feeling extra generous and hide a couple of peppermints in the mix. They dig in and slurp away!

On the bright side, I've already noticed the daylight sticking around a little bit longer every day and poor Gabe is already starting to shed out some of his winter coat. The shedding seems a bit early to me, but who am I to argue with his internal clock? And it means spring is getting closer and closer, always a welcome time of year.

I have big plans for the spring, not only for riding and trail riding trips, but also plans to make some fairly significant lay-out changes to the farm to make things more user and horse friendly and make a little more room for a friend's horse I expect to move to my place this spring. We're moving paddocks, moving and rebuilding run-in sheds, increasing the size of the arena and adding a few more trails through the woods with cross country-style jump options. Actually, I need to get busy on clearing trails now, when all the foliage is gone and it's easy to get through the underbrush when I can see where my paths are going!