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.