Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Where'd my stick'em seat go? Arrrggh!

I haven't been able to ride as much as I really wanted to this summer (I picked up a second job and am working 12+ hour days, sometimes 7 days a week). I have managed to get up early and catch a ride before heading in to work a few times, but again, not as often as I'd like. Which is sad, because it's been an amazing summer, weather-wise. Unseasonably cool and wonderful. The mornings are chilly, the evenings pleasant. Perfect riding weather and I'm missing it!

With my new schedule, my poor horse is fat. Yes, a fat Thoroughbred. I never thought I'd see the day, but, I don't think he really cares that much. He's fat and happy and I think enjoying his summer of leisure. He has developed a bizarre taste for sunflowers (weird horse) and completely decimated my sunflower garden. I busted him pulling them down one by one and eating the whole darn thing, flower, seeds, stem, leaves and all. Freak. But what can you say to a horse when he looks at you with that "What? What am I doing?" expression on his face and a sunflower dangling out of his mouth? Not much to say except laugh! My poor sunflowers. So much for watching the wrens, doves and finches enjoy sunflower seeds this fall.

But the thing that amazes most is when I do get to ride, he's fantastic. While I know deep down that horses really don't care if they "work" or not (I think if given a choice, they'd all be perfectly content as pampered pasture puffs forever and ever), I get the feeling that he truly does enjoy our time together. He is eager to please, ears up and flicking back at me to check in from time to time and trying his fat butt off to do what I've asked. He follows me around if I'm out and is eager to put on his halter. I couldn't be more proud of him and I think he kind of likes me.

I started our last ride (as I promised myself I would!) with 10 minutes of work sans stirrups. Three minutes in (posting trot, agony!) and I was questioning the sanity of this decision. My legs, they were burning and feeling like Jell-O. I'm pretty sure they are plotting ways to get back at me. But, it made me realize how much I've been depending on my feet and my stirrups to keep my balance, and not on my seat, body and legs as I should. I had to grab pommel/pad a few times on sharper turns and berated myself for letting bad habits develop simply through laziness. Even while I was in agony and feeling not as secure as I should, my seat must have been better and deeper without the stirrups because Gabe kept rounding up, stepping deep and reaching for the bridle, even on a loose rein (loose reins so I don't accidentally yank on his face if I lose my balance. He won't suffer because of my inadequacies!) Not once did he strike the giraffe pose or behave as if he thought I'd lost my ever-lovin' mind. I love that horse to pieces!

It was frustrating to realize I've let myself become so complacent about a secure seat. I grew up riding bareback, everywhere, at every gait over all kinds of terrain, often faster than I probably should have. Try telling a 10-year-old girl with a wild streak 10 miles wide NOT to ride her pony bareback, in a halter, hellbent for leather and I doubt you'd get very far! Knowing that right now I probably couldn't stick a good spook bareback is incredibly depressing.  But I intend to remedy that.

Gabe is very much out of shape, and so am I, so I've kept the working part of our rides on the shorter side, no more than 30 minutes of true work. Then, we go out and enjoy the woods or take a leisurely hack down the road.  I may not have met any of my riding goals with Gabe this summer (and I'm perfectly okay with that), but the rides we have had are heavenly, and with them as few and far between as they have been, each one has been a gift.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The rodeo ride (and Big Black Demon-spawn)

It's absolutely official.

I hate biting flies. You know the ones, the Big Black Demon-spawn that bite hard enough to draw blood and drive horses crazy.

They drive mine to buck. Even under saddle.

Gabe has bucked a few times while out riding and one of the Big Black Demon-spawn lands on him in a place he can't reach. He grunts and bucks a couple of times, I find the bug and try to squash it. It keeps me on my toes and he gets a natural "chiropratic crack" in the process.

Montana, on the other hand, is a nasty bucker.  He takes off running and bucking, under saddle, when the bugs start biting hard. He's an athlete, apparently. He bucks sideways, twisting his body in the process of trying to rid himself of the Big Black Demon-spawn that land on his belly.

And apparently, I need to practice riding without stirrups more often to improve my balance and strengthen my seat.

Yes, I got dumped this weekend. By Montana. Stupid bugs.

We trailered to a friend's place this weekend to go for a trail ride. It was Montana's first outing there so he was a bit up and looky, but nothing major. We were in the woods (the bugs were awful. A buffet of every biting bug imaginable followed and tormented our little group), trotting along, nice as can be, a good, forward, energetic trot when I felt him starting to ball up, his tail started going crazy, his head came up and his ears laid back flat. I thought the rider behind us was perhaps a bit closer than Montana was comfortable with and dismissed it to attitude. Then, without warning, he just started bucking and going forward with even more energy, bucking and twisting his body in a way I've only seen accomplished at rodeos.

Off I went.

Right off into the dirt and hard on my butt. I have a very pretty bruise where I landed and, oh, boy, did my lower back ever hurt the morning after. He stopped immediately and stood there looking at me like "what the heck are you doing down there, silly human?" Of course, I was absolutely mortified to get ditched in front of my friend and my husband and a woman I had just met. What kind of rider am I that I can't stick to my horse for a couple of bucks? Usually, those things don't faze me at all, I can ride just about anything they want to throw at me and laugh at them as they do it. I might not be pretty while riding out a stupid moment or two, but I can usually ride it out and stay aboard until the stupids are out. He seriously caught me off guard. I did not expect that, not at all. Especially not while going at a good trot.

I brushed the dirt off, put a mental Band-aid on my pride, and hopped back on.

The rest of the ride was fairly uneventful, he was still up and looky, but, new place, strange horses, 4-wheelers and dogs, all contributed to his level of high alert and I couldn't really get on to him for being a nut. He's still young, and he needs many, many more miles under saddle before new things become old hat. He did walk right over an old, tilted, wooden bridge without much fuss at all, a definite plus in my book.

But I can guarantee this: Every ride from now on will start with a good 10-15 minutes of work without stirrups and another 10 in two-point to regain my balance and solid seat. There is no reason at all that I should have come off, and I'm going to do all I can to make sure it doesn't happen again. At least, not with anyone watching!

Oh, and more fly spray. Lots more fly spray.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Born of the Pyramids: Rocky's Story

Most horses in the U.S. have a pretty good life. At least, all of the horses I know do. The ones I know (and there are many!) are pampered, doted on, spoiled, given good veterinary care and considered part of the family. Gabe has been reacting to fly and mosquito bites very, very badly this year, so, he gets antihistamines, bug spray, a fly mask and baths with soothing, medicated shampoo to ease the welts. I have a full-body/neck fly sheet on the way. I can’t stand to see any horse suffer. I see a bump, bruise, scrape or owie on any of them and it gets treated.

They really have no idea how good life is and I hope they never know any other life.

There are those out there who are abused and starved and neglected in the U.S., but there are charities and organizations here that work to help them and find them new homes.

But imagine being in a poor country in the middle of a revolution where horses are treated like 3rd hand vehicles and kept working injured, starved, sick and abused.

I had no idea how bad it was for horses in other countries. I think many of us forget that in other countries, horses are merely beasts of burden, worked until they die with no thought for health or comfort, or even food. We are used to our pampered, glossy, healthy horses. Not the skinny, abused, injured, sick and overworked ones that are the norm rather than the exception.

I just finished a book, “Born of the Pyramids: Rocky’s Story” by Susan Richards-Benson that highlighted the suffering of the horses in Egypt.

The story is written based on real-life, current experiences of horses in Cairo told from the point of view of a horse named Rocky. It follows Rocky from birth through a variety of owners and the abuses he and his fellow horses suffered: Beatings, saddle sores and harness sores, torn lips and tongues cut by sharp bits, starvation, dehydration, poor farriery, infections, overwork, the ignorance of owners about the welfare of their horses and the boggling practice of applying red hot iron rods to horses’ legs to “make their hearts stronger.”

The book kept me riveted from page one. The story kept reminding me of Anna Sewell’s “Black Beauty” as Richards-Benson showed the reader the wretched lives of the horses living (subsisting) and working in the streets of Cairo. They are worked until they die or simply cannot move.
My heart broke as a I read it and with each new, horrifying atrocity done to the horses and donkeys in the book, I found myself often thinking “no way. There’s no way anyone could be that ignorant and cruel!” I kept waiting for Rocky to wake up and find out it was all just some horrible dream he was having. But, it wasn’t a dream.

Rocky was actually one of the first horses purchased by a small rescue started to help the horses in Cairo and he has become the “mascot” representing the plight of Cairo’s horses and the efforts to help ease their harsh lives.

I did a bit of research while I read the book and found out the atrocities committed throughout the book are extremely commonplace in Egypt. It’s just the way it’s done because no one knows any better, but there are groups working to get feed, vet care and farrier work to the horses and educate the owners about the proper care of the animals they depend on and use for their livelihoods.

Some of the terms used will be unfamiliar to American horse owners because they are terms more commonly used in Britian. I believe the author is British, which explains some of the unfamiliar terms. I read a lot of training books written by British authors, so I could figure out what most of the words were referring to.

I do recommend this book. It’s not terribly long and is a fast read (about horses, always a bonus in my world!), plus, buying one helps the horses!

The author, who is working to change the plight of the horse in Egypt and around the world, is donating proceeds from the sale of “Born of the Pyramids” to The Egypt Horse Project, The Egyptian Society of Animal Friends and other animal welfare organizations worldwide.

The book can be found at

I highly, highly recommend a visit to the Facebook page of “Born of the Pyramids.” Updates on the work being done for the horses in Cairo are regular and the photos of the horses, their condition and injuries will definitely make you want to not only donate, but go out and hug your horses and give them a few extra carrots.

(Full disclosure: I did not get compensated for this review. I was asked by the author to review the book and because the proceeds from the sale benefits the horses, I agreed.)

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Leg yield lament

Oh, leg yield, why do you allude me?
You seem so easy, the cues, not complicated:
Weight the seatbone, (make sure you weight the correct one!)
open the outside hand and leg, inviting the horse to move on over and fill that space,
assure a slight flexion away from the direction of travel,
cue "over" with the inside leg, 
ask your patient equine to step sideways and forward all at once
Cross your fingers and hope for the best.
All at once, now...go!
Oh, leg yield, I forgot to look in the direction I want to travel!
Gabe's brain says, Oh! Twister! Left hind red, right front blue, nose on green,
I manage to confuse him.
I have a snake for a horse,
Hindquarters this way,
Front end over here,
Neck over there
Body wiggling around somewhere in the middle.
Gather him up, straighten him out, send him forward, pat his neck, he is trying.
I am failing him.
Something I am doing isn't quite right.
I'm apparently speaking Czechoslovakian and he hears Italian. 
Take it apart, analyze.
Where did I go wrong?
Try again.
And again.
Once more now!
We have sideways AND forward!
Just a slight sideways, 4 good steps, but we did it!
Pat, relax, walk on strong and straight.
Analyze, remember that feeling and memorize where all the body bits were at any given moment
and try it again.
Leg yield, properly done, you are harder than you seem.
Leg yield,
We will master you.
Just give us a little time.
And put away that damnable Twister board!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Can I eat that?

I've apparently done something right in the training of Gabe.

Our ride last night was phenomenal. Absolutely phenomenal. He was listening and soft in the bridle and nice and forward. Our walk to canter departs are still sticky and sloppy, but they are getting better, and, he's becoming much, much more adjustable at the canter. I set up a grid of ground poles on a circle to work on our canter extensions and collections and he picked it up fast.

He worked hard and worked well, despite the heat, humidity, countless mosquitoes and nasty horse flies that kept biting him. He bucks when he gets bit, by the way, so while it was a very good ride, it was also occasionally a very interesting ride. Imagine me trying to reach around, locate the offending horse fly, and smack it off Gabe's ass while he is bucking. I'm surprised I didn't land on my head!

I even drenched the poor guy in fly spray before our ride, but those bugs are relentless, on both of us. Bugs this year are insane and don't give the horses a break. The fly spray that worked so wonderfully last year doesn't seem to be deterring them at all this year. Ugh.

Anyway, on to Gabe's most impressive training that became very evident last night. I pulled the cover off the pool Wednesday and spread it out in the yard to dry so we can fold it up and put it away. It's HUGE (our pool holds approximately 25,000 gallons, to give you an idea of how huge the cover is), and, I spread it out right next to the hitching rail and mounting block, not even thinking it might be an issue. Afterall, horses are supposed to be leery of big, scary tarp-like things that could be hiding horse-eating monsters, right?

In Gabe's happy little world, tarps and pool covers are for eating, not for spooking at. I led him to the hitching rail and to the tarp, ready for him to go bug-eyed stupid at the sight of it, and was very pleasantly surprised when he walked right up to it, put his front feet on it and reached down to eat it. Goofball. I led him over it and he didn't care one bit that it made noises as he walked. He was more interested in trying to snatch bites of it.

Good boy! After our ride and a short, cooling-off trail ride, I rode him over it, just to make sure his brain was the same. Nothing. No hesitation, no second thoughts. No worries.

I guess all that de-sensitization I did with my big, silly OTTB early in his training (umbrellas, tarps, plastic bags, bicycles, balloons, pool noodles, gigantic stuffed animals in the arena, everything and anything I could think of to throw at him and drape over him), paid off. Too bad I can't convince birds, bunnies, cows, sheep and peacocks to join my arsenal of scary things to expose him to regularly. Then, we'd be golden in the scary stuff department!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

My horse, my psychologist, my happy place

Well, it's official.

My riding buddy and her pony are gone. Teddy and Jaquie loaded up and left last night, driving straight through to Colorado and hitting a few really bad storms along the way, but, they made it safe and sound. Teddy was apparently very, very, very happy to be off that trailer, and I can't say I blame him! It was sad doing evening and morning chores and not hearing his cheerful nicker and seeing him watching me intently, urging me with his eyes, ears and arched neck to hurry the heck up!

I will miss the hell out of both of them. I had to fight back tears as I watched them bump down my driveway for the last time then go ride my sadness out. It's amazing what being on the back of a horse will do for your emotional state. Gabe somehow knew that I just needed him to be there for me, not behave like a crazy horse, not be silly or playful, just be. And he did just that. Our ride was fabulous. Sad, but fabulous, and at the end, I was no longer sad. I buried my face in his neck and was just thankful to have him there, breathing in that sweaty, musky, horse smell that is him and is so comforting. He, of course, was pretty convinced I had peppermints hiding somewhere and snuffled and lipped my clothes, leaving his famous green slobber everywhere, making me smile. The goof.

"There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a (wo)man." - Winston Churchill

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Green grass and new chaps

It's amazing what a new pair of half chaps will do for a kid's desire to ride. Apparently, riding without chaps was pinching Kayleigh's legs. I had no idea. New chaps=new desire to ride more often, even without mom!

She didn't know I was watching her. She is getting much more confident, trotting and cantering Lou all over the place. I could hear her laughing as she cantered him in the lane between our pastures and the corn field. He was a turd for her last night and bucked her off. She landed in the mud, got the wind knocked out of her, then caught that little rebel and hopped back on. The kid takes no shit from Lou!
She and he seem to get along very well. He does test her from time to time, but she has fun on him. He reminds me a lot of my first pony, Blaze. Sometimes a fabulous partner, other times...well, let's just say that pony taught me to stick to just about anything and learn an incredible amount of patience. Aren't they cute together?

We had a couple of days dry enough to turn them out on the pasture...but the grass is ALWAYS greener on the other side of the fence, isn't it? My husband was pulling up clover for them and they eagerly awaited the treat.

He knows JUST where all of Gabe's itchy spots are and is usually willing to stand out there and give him a good scritching. Gabe, of course, begs for scratches and won't leave you in peace if you are in the pasture and NOT scratching him.

That's the spot! Right there! I'll give you all day to stop.

Me next? I have itchies too! my butt.

I'll catch up with ya later...I have grass to eat.

Monday, April 29, 2013

I'm a slum lord

We visited a really nice boarding barn/training stables this weekend and I must say, I suddenly felt sorry for my "rustic-living" horses. They don't know what they are missing!

The stalls at this barn were huge and really nice. Each had a small barred window facing the outdoors and full-height solid walls separating the horses from each other. No face wars in this barn! The indoor arena, large and impressive. Huge wash stalls, stately grooming/tacking areas, gorgeous hay, soft shavings and wide aisles.

The horses living in the stalls were sleek and glossy, blanketed and looked fantastic. Really nice horses in very nice stalls wearing warm blankets. Not a blemish in scrapes or kick marks to be seen marring the perfect coats on any of them. They were very obviously well cared for and in excellent health.

I had forgotten how spotless and shiny stalled, blanketed horses are, especially when I am faced with mud-covered, hairy horses every day. No matter how often I groom them they will immediately go out and find the biggest, slimiest mud hole they can find and wallow around in it for awhile. If it's not stuck in their ears, they aren't happy.

They are filthy and hairy and fat.

And happy.

The horses in those big, nicely bedded, clean, dry stalls looked great, but none of them seemed very happy being inside.  Turnout was very, very limited and the horses didn't appear to have the chance to take a roll in a big mud puddle and just be a horse. Their lives are confined to those four walls and the arena with occasional turnout in a small paddock for a couple of hours.

I had forgotten what an angry, unhappy horse face looks like, even after working for years in big, high-dollar barns and seeing those unhappy, angry faces every day. I'm now so used to relaxed, happy horse faces it was a shock to see the pinned ears, the hard eye and tense mouth again. I don't miss working with the weavers, cribbers, teeth-scrapers (one of the worst habits ever...scraping teeth up and down stall bars, ugh!), endless stall circlers, bar-attackers, hole-diggers and wall-kickers. Not to mention the bucket-poopers and wall-eaters.

Sure, I'd LOVE to have always clean sure would save me a lot of time. I'd love to know that Gabe isn't going to come in from playing with his pasture buddies sporting a new scrape or bite mark on his ribs, neck or butt. I'd love it if all my horses kept their true color during the summer instead of bleaching out to some yucky shade (yes, even grays bleach, believe it or not).

But, I'm not willing to trade their health and happiness just so horse-keeping is easier for me and they look prettier.

So, sorry're going to have to keep livin' in the country slums. Mud and all. I'll stock up on curries and mud brushes.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Rethinking the painted horse

I've been riding the painted horse a bit more often lately to get him ready for my husband to ride this summer. My goal is to ride him at least three times (preferably four) a week and hopefully, in about a month or two, he'll be ready to go. He learns quickly and I've stepped back and re-thought my training methods with him.

When we brought Montana home last summer he was definitely a challenge. You couldn't mount up without him trying to leave or rear, he didn't know how to turn, stop, go or respond at all. If your leg strayed from the girth, bumped around, strayed to his flank, or you reached around to touch his butt while mounted you were treated to bucking or bolting. Yay! Excitement! He was green as grass and turned out to be about two years younger than what he was sold as. We were told he was 7. The vet confirmed he had most likely just turned five when we had Coggins updated in February. I suck at telling age by teeth unless they are really young or very old, anything in between boggles me.

I had been working him regularly through the fall, but stopped in December when the weather turned ick and I didn't have time to ride two horses. Gabe got the riding time, Montana languished.

Anyway, I took him out on trails last weekend with a friend and he was a star. Walked through mud and water without hesitating, up and down hills and only startled once at a bird that took flight next to him and rustled the leaves. Our only issue was loading. He didn't want to get on the trailer very nicely, so, that's something to work on. He's a crappy traveler, too. He kicks the trailer and obviously doesn't like being on it, but, I think more miles and more time in the trailer will settle him.

When I first started working with him I trained him as a horse I would ride, not a horse a green rider would ride. Looking back, I realized that was a mistake. I like my horses to be very sensitive and respond to my seat before my hands. When I want forward movement, I use my seat first, then gently squeeze with calves if he doesn't respond to the seat. When I want a slower gait, I use my seat and abs first, then go to my hands as a backup. That's what I was training him to do. The stop, go, and turns were taught to respond to my body first, hands and legs second.

I later realized that was the wrong way to go when working a horse to respond to a green rider who will naturally go to hands first and not have the balance or knowledge to be able use his/her body and legs in a more refined manner.

This became obvious when a young friend rode him a couple of weeks ago. She is used to riding dead-headed/dead-sided horses who you need to kick to go. She kicked. He went straight from walk to canter. He responded the way he was trained to respond, like a fine-tuned Corvette, not a station wagon running on one-cylinder.

I need to work Montana as if I was training him to be a rent-by-the-hour trail horse. He needs to be used to unbalanced riders, unsteady legs, undisciplined hands and learn not over-react to any of that. So, now I'm forcing myself to ride like I'm drunk and have never ridden before. I'm flopping and sitting crooked and forcing myself to be less-refined in my aids. And so far, he's okay with it.

Our biggest issue so far is speed. When I'm unbalanced he trots faster faster faster. As soon as I'm balanced again, he slows down. But, I need to teach him to always trot slowly, no matter how unbalanced the rider is. So, I let him speed up, then pull him back down to a slow trot and release. I drop the reins and let him trot along at the pace I set. As soon as he speeds up again, I do it all over, staying purposely unbalanced (this is hard to force myself to do!). He's getting it. Slowly but surely, the lightbulb in his head is staying on.

Friday, April 12, 2013

All the scary things

The day after our temperature soared to 80*,  it fell to the low 40s, overcast and windy. And wet. We got a lot of rain and wind as a cool front moved in overnight.

On the 80* day all the horses were standing around, miserable in their winter coats, I'm sure wishing those long hairs would just fall off and disappear. I didn't ride, not wanting to overheat the poor guy who was already standing there sweating and looking quite drained.

Instead, in my infinite wisdom, I decided to ride in the chilly wind. Down the road (the arena is too slick and sloppy). Just me and Gabe. We haven't gone out alone since Jacquie left...I usually cajole my daughter into riding with me or ride in the arena.

Did you know Gabe can turn donuts AND lay rubber? He can! That boy has more athleticism than he is usually willing to tap in to. Everything was scary: The water-filled ditches with trash floating in them (yuck! I hate litterers); the plywood on our pump house that moves in the wind; the pallets I moved out of the garden; the hay shed; the tarp snapping in the wind; the ducks on the pond; the wind whistling through the power lines; the loud truck that drove very slowly by us (thank you!); the water-filled hoof divots in the yard; the seagulls in the fields; the cows half a mile away; the dreaded peacocks.

He exploded sideways and spun to face the scary things. He scooted forwards like he was breaking from the gate, snorting and blowing. He flung his head and squealed and pranced and crow hopped. He flung green-tinged slobber into my face and all over his chest (at least he was soft in the mouth and listening to me!) I found some of that slobber on his butt and spattered on his back legs while untacking. What a special boy.

Everything was out to get him and his whole body was a mass of quivering, explosive energy. He wasn't really scared of anything out there (he's seen it all a million times), he was just brimming over with excitement and energy and needed to get it out. So, down the road we went, picking up a nice, brisk trot with walk transitions to be sure I still had a stop if I needed it and making adjustments within the trot to keep him paying attention. I just hung on and prayed and tried to keep him too busy to worry about all the scary stuff around him.

It worked. We rode about four miles and by mile two, he was definitely more focused on me. He was still high as a kite and brimming with excess energy to burn, but at least he was listening and a wee bit more relaxed.

When my husband asked how my ride had gone, my only response was "Exciting!" Gabe wasn't bad, he was like a kid at a birthday party who had eaten too much cake combined with an excess of stimulation: Way too much energy to keep contained.

I'm hoping tonight's ride is a little less "exciting!"

Friday, April 5, 2013

Mud, the coolest fad

Mud is the new spring shade.
All the cool kids are wearing it, in abundance.

Even the short, extra hairy ones.

Some really pile it on.

All over and anywhere they can get it. I'm not fond of the look, but, there it is.

Thankfully, this mud fad won't last too long...and it's a temporary look (except, it does stain lighter colors a bit!)

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Spring Stupids

It's amazing what a week will do. This time last week we still had snow. Now, it's all melted and everything is coming up green! Even the mud is finally drying up a bit. Yay!

And the horses, well, I think they all have a bit of spring fever stupids. They took an unexpected journey over the weekend, and that dang little pony, Lou, started it all. He's too smart and wily for his own good. He showed them all (except Montana) how to push past a human to rush through an open gate and head for the hills, or, in this case, head for the dairy farm.

Funny how the cows don't bother Gabe at all when he's on his own. Even funnier how all the big, wide, water-filled ditches contained zero horse-eating crocodiles when he's out gallivanting with his herd buddies. The turd.

It took three of us and a truck to finally convince them to head home, and boy were they a sight, all galloping together and being crazy, bucking and farting and running hellbent for anywhere. Every time my husband got close to them, Lou tossed his head and took off, inciting the rest of the bunch to follow. Little inciter, inciting riots, just like a pony.

Lou may find his name changed to Houdini (or, as I like to call him, That Little Brat). I don't know how he's doing it, but every day this week he is somewhere other than where we left him. No fences are down, the wires are hot and there is no place he can crawl under. He's either an amazing jumper and clearing fences significantly taller than he is, or, his hair is still just to thick (imagine wooly mammoth thick) to feel the zap of the fence through it and the green grass is far too enticing. Who knows but I sure wish I could catch him in the act so we know how to bar any further escapes! At least he sticks around the yard. 

I'm so excited the weather is finally cooperative...looking forward to many, many rides soon!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Warm blankies

Snow? Really? REALLY?!  We've started shedding like mad and you throw THIS at us? Mother Nature, you have one heck of a sense of humor. We are not amused.

Friday, March 22, 2013

"Your horse is a jerk."

So, my husband calls me at work and the first thing he says, "Your horse is a jerk."

Uh oh. That is never a phrase you want to hear when you have horses and are an hour away from home!

"Ummm...why is he a jerk this time?" I ask cautiously, not quite sure I want to hear the answer, pretty sure he's managed to mangle himself in some obscure way.

"Well, all I have to say is this: He has no excuses any more. He can jump, don't ever let him convince you otherwise," he replied.

Well, that's kind of a cryptic answer. So, I pressed for the full story.

We have most of the property and driveway fenced so we can turn horses out into the yard (more grass/room, less wear and tear on the pastures). By fencing the "non-pasture" part of the property we gain several more acres of good grazing, and that means less for me to mow! The fence ends at the pond, but sometimes, when the pond is low, those brats walk around the fence, through the pond and "escape." We're pretty far from the road and they've never wandered to the road, but they do like to graze along the driveway and along the outside of the fence when they do manage to escape.  You know, the grass is always greener! Now that the pond is low and the mud frozen, we plan to extend the fence INTO the pond as far as we can (hello hip waders!) to prevent any future escapes.

Anyway, my husband went out to call the horses in so he could lock them up before leaving. They are allowed out into the yard, but only when someone is home to keep an eye on them just in case they do decide to go on an unauthorized adventure. They all come running when we call for them, and they came galloping down the driveway as expected and were rewarded with peppermints all around. They're spoiled that way.

All except Gabe.

Mr. Prissy Pants had escaped through the pond and was on the other side of the fence grazing along the driveway. He did not like being left behind by all his buddies. He apparently ran all the way down the pasture fenceline, figured out he couldn't get through, then ran all the way back to the driveway and JUMPED the freakin' fence! The fence is nearly five feet high. My husband said he didn't even hesitate, just soared right over it and kept on going, galloping down the driveway, tail straight in the air, to find all his buddies grazing in the arena.

We know the big guy can jump...he's always enjoyed it under saddle but I've kept the fences low. I believe in starting slow and low to build confidence and give them a good experience. Now, we know he has a little bit of scope, too, maybe I can bump the size of the fences up a couple of inches this spring when we start schooling over fences again. 

I would have loved to be there to see him clear it!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Nap time

Hey big guy?
Yeah, little man?

You sure make a comfy pillow.
I know. You're welcome.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Weird horses are blow-hards

The big man was in a weird mood today.

The farrier was scheduled to do pedicures on everyone, so, I pulled them all out of their mud lots (can't really call them dry lots at this point in the season) so I could wash legs and give them a brushing before he arrived.

Everyone stood nicely and let me dunk their legs into warm buckets of water to rinse most of the sticky gunk off. Teddy freed himself four times (he's a master houdini and can untie just about any kind of knot!) and I had to go chasing after him. Gabe wanted to play face wars with Teddy at the hitching post (he can be an ass about it), Little Lou was completely content with scratching his face on the tie rail and Montana fell asleep at the post.

We had NO thrush in any feet and they all looked great, which surprised me considering the mud they've been standing in for months. I expected at least some thrush, but there was none. Yay!

Each horse (except Gabe, of course) stood beautifully for the farrier, as expected.

Gabe, he was weird. He's usually wiggly, not being bad, but wiggly. He doesn't like to stand still for long. He typically shoves his head against my chest and rests it there while the farrier works or tucks it beneath my armpit and grinds his teeth. He grinds when he stresses or worries, and having his feet done stresses him.

This time, all he wanted to do was shove his head between my arm and body or into my coat pocket and BLOW hard, you know like they do when they see something that gets them excited or worried. The harder he snorted into my arm, the more excited he got, and when I pushed him away, he was extremely insistent on getting his nose back where it was so he could "bugle" again. The more excited he got, the pushier he got, which is unusual. He can be nosy and in your space, but rarely adamantly and rudely pushy. It was weird. He's never behaved like that before and I can't quite decipher it.

But, his feet got done and his frogs are right at the shedding point, so things aren't beautiful, but better than they were. No thrush, no cracks, no worrisome anything.

Tomorrow, he's going on an "exciting" trip. Little does he know he's headed to the horse dentist. Poor guy needs some dental work. He has a cap that never fell all the way out and it's now looking swollen, sore and infected and I know his grinding habit has played hell on his molars and his canines need clipped. His been dribbling his food a bit more than usual and not holding his weight like I'd like to see. He's a normally sloppy eater, but the slop is bigger than usual. Typical Thoroughbred mess mouth, I'm sure. It was a mess the last time he was done, it'll be a mess again.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A small change

I always get so excited when I see a new comment on a post, eager to find out what my online friends have to say. I value your words and the time you spend to read, comment, offer insight or suggestions.

But lately, more of the comments have been unintelligible spam, not words from actual readers. If the spam was articulate, interesting or even amusing, I wouldn't worry so much about it, but this spam is awful and obviously written by someone who has zero grasp of the concept on how to construct a sentence that makes any sense at all.

I used to have this blog set up to require word verification to post comments, but for some reason, the verification words blogger uses are generally impossible to read.

I won't do that to you guys. It's frustrating to have to go through three or four verification screens because you can't quite decipher what it says! And eventually, if you're like me, you just give up after the 3rd or 4th failed attempt and leave no comment at all.

So, instead, I have enabled comment moderation. I will check frequently to approve and publish comments as quickly as I can, but, it's the only thing I can think of to do to stop the really annoying spam.

Please bear with me as I try to keep up. If your comment doesn't show up within 24 hours after you post it, I'm probably out riding!

Or digging my horses out of the mud. :)

Happy Trails!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Splish splash! It's a mud bath!

Yeah. Apparently it doesn't matter if the rest of the pasture is mostly, kind of dry.

Gabe will find the wettest spot just to play. He has managed to dig a GIGANTIC hole over the years, which is why this part of the pasture now holds water forever.

I don't think he should have been born a gray. He should have been born mud-colored. 'Cause that's what he usually is!

Notice Teddy and Lou looking on with rapt attention. I doubt they'll be getting their little feetsie's wet...Gabe, on the other hand, has not yet met a puddle, creek, bog, swamp, or pond that he won't stick his feet in or play in.

What a goof.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The changing herd

There has been a shifting of herd dynamics that has been a bit surprising.

The herd has gone from six to four. I found a fabulous home for Chief and Calypso. Both are headed north to teach kids to ride at a church camp in Wisconsin. I researched the camp (it's been around longer than I've been alive and has an excellent reputation. The horse facilities are top notch from the pictures I saw.), talked to the woman tasked with finding suitable horses for the program and I truly believe it's a good place for them. They will be used, loved, and well-cared for, which is exactly what I was looking for for both of them. And, they got to stay together, which I was really hoping for. I hope they will be happy, I know they will be loved and get loved on by kids, which both horses live for. Both can take or leave adults, but they both adore and are incredibly gentle with kids.

My heart broke as I watched them load up on to the trailer and drive away, and I cried, but I know it's for the best for both of them. I could never, ever be a horse trader or actively buy and sell horses. I get too attached to them. My pasture still looks empty without them there.

In the meantime, I thought there would be a huge shakeup in the herd dynamics for the remaining four, but, not so much. They all went out in the big pasture together yesterday (the paddocks are a mucky, yucky, horrible mess. The pasture isn't much better, but, it is what it is. Next big investment? A small barn.) and without a mare influencing them and moving them around, they settled quickly into an unexpected pecking order. Gabe is number two man on the totem pole. Shocked! Teddy, number one. Not so shocked.

Gabe buddied up with Kahlua (the pony, aka Little Lou) most of the day. The two acted like children, running, playing, rearing up at each other and "boxing." Gabe likes to grab the top of Lou's neck in his mouth and just hold him. Lou, who is a midget, gets irritated, and, since he can't reach Gabe's neck (again, the midget thing), rears up. Pretty soon, they are rearing at each other, "hoof boxing," then spinning to kick/buck and tear off in opposite directions only to come back and do the same thing again. They graze near each other and doze standing/laying together. Teddy lingers near the two but is perfectly happy playing every now and then, sometimes squashing squabbles he doesn't approve of. Montana, (the paint) he's the bottom of the pecking order, which was completely unexpected. He'll hang out near everyone, but hasn't really shown any interest in mingling.

I thought for sure Gabe would be bottom of the herd! Things could change, but, in the next few months, there will be more upheaval in the herd as Teddy leaves for his new digs in Colorado and I actively market Montana for sale.

I'm hoping that by the time summer officially rolls around I'll be down to just Gabe and Lou, which is why it pleases me so much that the two get along so well and play together nicely. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

What the fling?

Sunday was my last ride with Jacquie for a few months. I know we'll ride again together when she comes back in late spring to pick up Teddy and cart him off to Colorado, but, it was still a sad ride.

The boys were happy to be out and able to really stretch their legs, the wind chilly, and we both came back to the house with wind-burned faces and muscle-sore bodies. We took advantage of riding as much over three days as we could possibly fit in, and it was good.

On another note, I'm a little concerned with a particular behavior Gabe has exhibited occasionally. The last time he did it I blamed it on the hard little ice pellets smacking him in the face while we rode during a sudden ice storm. This time, I'm trying to blame the high wind, but I'm not so sure. It was blowing pretty hard Sunday. Okay, really hard. So gusty were the winds that Jacquie and I couldn't talk because the wind just took our words away, even while riding next to each other.

See, during both those rides he started shaking/tossing his head. This is not his usual fling his head around and squeal with energy and happiness toss, but a quicker, up and down toss like something on his face was irritating him, or, a bug flew up his nose. He doesn't do it all the time, as I mentioned, just occasionally. The last couple of times there was something in the weather I blamed. When we rode Saturday, and the rides before that when the wind was normal and the sun shining, he didn't do it. He's done it occasionally during the spring/summer too, but I blamed it on the bugs we scare up from tall grass that may have hit him in the face and gone up his nose as they flew all around us.

I did a bit of research into Equine Headshaking Syndrome, and some of the the symptoms seem to match, but not all. He's not violent about it, and he only does it while we're riding. He DOES like to itch his nose/muzzle during and after our rides, which is a symptom, but, it's not really excessive and not any more than my other horses do. He doesn't seem to be in pain, just occasionally irritated, and he certainly doesn't do it out in the pasture or in the paddocks, just while we're riding.

There is a definite difference between his goofy, happy, horizontal head fling/swing and this vertical, sudden head toss. 

So, I don't know. I'm just going to keep an eye out for it and be more aware of it, maybe document it when it does happen and try to find some kind of pattern, if there is one.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Beginners again!

In two weeks I'll start giving beginner riding lessons again. It's been years since I've done beginner lessons but I'm actually looking forward to it. The rider is a 7-year-old girl who is absolutely horse crazy. She's been riding Lou (our pony) for a few weeks now, under the supervision of Jacquie, but, with Jacquie leaving for her new job in Colorado, I'll take over the lessons.

I gave Jacquie her beginner/intermediate lessons many, many moons ago so it's been kind of neat watching her give lessons and hearing some of the same things I taught her come out of her mouth. So, I know the kiddo has a good solid start, and with her enthusiasm, I think she'll be fun to teach.

Today, I managed to convince Kayleigh (my daughter) to get up on Calypso just to ride around the arena a bit and that turned into an hour-long lesson which she seemed to enjoy. Usually, she's done after 15 minutes. She enjoyed it so much, that at the end of her lesson she said "Mom, you're a really good teacher!" *shock face!* And, she asked when we could do it again, even suggesting that we start doing a lesson every Saturday. *double shock face!* I've never given her proper, formal lessons before because every time I tried, it ended up with her arguing with me about some thing or another (I seem to remember doing the same thing to my mom when she tried to give me riding lessons), so, I stopped trying. I didn't want to turn riding into an argument with her and make it a miserable experience.

But today was different. She did start out arguing a bit at first. Mostly, the arguing is in the form of her saying "I AM!" when I try to tell her how to do something (ie, heels down, or, sit up straight, or grab mane if you feel off balance, not the rein, etc.), then, she gets huffy and I get frustrated and it goes downhill quickly from there. The arguing ended quickly today when I explained to her that I wouldn't tell her to do something or change something if she was already doing it correctly. She listened and followed my instructions and lo and behold, the mare did EXACTLY what Kayleigh asked her to do. She seemed to get excited when I showed her a few"tricks" that she could get Calypso to do if she just used her body in the right way, like getting her to take bigger, longer walking strides just using her seat, or slowing her down or halting her by "walking" her seatbones slower or stopping them entirely, all done without using the reins or her calves. I showed her how to do a turn on the forehand and showed her that Calypso can spin on a dime if she uses her aids correctly. I helped her find her seatbones, which I never realized she had no idea were there!

So, it was all good, and we both ended the lesson on a very positive note, which I am quite excited about.

I'd like to keep riding exciting and fun for both girls during lessons (no one wants to ride endless circles or drills, BORING), and while I do have a few "fun" lesson plans up my sleeves that I've used before with success, I hope you guys can give me some more ideas to keep the lessons fun. Games? Obstacle courses? I'm open to anything!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Tough questions

In less than two weeks I'll lose my riding partner and only boarder.

And I am sad about it. She's moving to Colorado to take a great job. It's a fabulous opportunity for her and I'm happy for her, but I'll miss the heck out of her and her horse and miss having someone to ride with regularly.

I've ridden by myself for years, and I know I can go back to riding by myself, but I've been spoiled by having a regular riding partner and training friend. You know those days when you know you should go out and ride, and you really want to ride, but somehow the day gets away from you and night falls and suddenly, another day went by and you didn't ride?

There haven't been many of those days since Jaquie has been around, showing up with her infectious smile and suggesting a long, much-needed ride. I'm afraid there will be too many of those non-riding days when she leaves. My daughter isn't as enthusiastic about riding as she once was and convincing her to go out riding with me is sometimes more of a chore than a pleasure, so I skip it. If I force her to ride with me, she complains the entire time, which makes the ride miserable and her miserable and turns my riding time into torture and regret.

I don't know of any riding groups in my area. I don't really have very many horse friends that do much trail riding and certainly none I can partner with for a few fun shows this spring/summer, so, I probably won't be doing any of that this year.

So I start asking myself: Why do I ride? Why do I spend so much time and money and effort keeping horses at home? Well, because I love the horses and I love riding and I love just watching them. I love seeing them first thing in the morning and burying my face into their necks in the evening. I even enjoy riding alone from time to time. But not all the time. When it comes down to it, I get the most pleasure and satisfaction when I have someone to ride with regularly, someone I can share my passion with. Because it's not just about being on a horse, it's about the company, the companionship, the conversation and the hours in the saddle just enjoying life.

I'm going to miss the hell out of that.

It also makes me question the wisdom of keeping a farm and keeping my horses at home. If I'm the only one riding, why do I have a farm and horse property? It's not cheap and it's certainly not always a walk in the park. And why the hell do I have five horses? Doesn't it make more sense to sell the place, sell all the "excess" horses and board Gabe somewhere where I'll have someone to ride with and significantly reduce the expense of horsekeeping?

All these questions, and so far, no real answers. I am, however, actively trying to sell three of the "extras." They aren't being ridden, they are just standing around doing nothing but eating and would be better off somewhere where they will be used. And, they'll be off my feed, vet, and farrier bill.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Horse camp anyone?

An adult horse camp with Denny Emerson?

Yes, please! I love overnight camps, and if it involves horses and jumping and an Olympian...well, all the better!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Where The Big Guy gets his awesomeness

Just for fun, a video of Gabe's daddy winning a race in 1982. He's the big gray who comes up from behind and leaves the Derby, Preakness and Belmont winners  in his dust. "Runaway Groom, from Canada!" the announcer exclaims as he suddenly appears in the frame.

The Travers Stakes race at Saratoga.

And Runaway Groom's breeders video. I think Gabe got his butt and his neck and really, his overall build.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

On the road, again

Despite the addition of much-needed arena lights, I've found my after-work riding time is still limited. Not because of cold or snow or lack of desire, but because of the recent super-muddy conditions.

I'm not complaining, not in the least bit! We need the rain, badly. After the summer drought any and all forms of precipitation are more than welcome.

But, it does limit my ride time, dadgumit. So, we've been doing a lot of road riding lately. A lot. There are good things and bad things about road riding. Fortunately, we have enough roads around the place to be able to go for hours and stay to very lightly traveled back roads. Only once have we been on those roads at the busiest time and thankfully Gabe is about as road-broke as he'll ever be. When a rumbling Harley zips by closely followed by a school bus and shortly thereafter a milk tanker and he doesn't bat an eye or twitch, you know your horse is traffic broke.

Small, extremely hairy, and very vocal Shetland ponies, on the other hand, are vicious horse eaters. Just ask Teddy. I don't think I've ever seen a horse cross a ditch and go up a steep bank sideways quite as gracefully as Teddy when that fire-breathing pony came running at us across his pasture. He never took his eyeballs off that pony the entire time, either. Silly boy.

Unfortunately, roads around this region are generally straight and narrow, which is not conducive to working on 20m circles. Which Gabe is probably thankful for. Circles are NOT his favorite thing, and they aren't mine, either, but they also happen to be what we really need to work on the most. What roads are conducive for is working on straight and forward movement and lateral work. Those who know dressage also know that good bending/circle work cannot be done adequately until you have a horse who travels straight and evenly. Granted, you can't have one without the other and both build upon each other, but when your riding conditions are limited, you do what you can. A good, flat straight surface, like a back country road, is ideal for feeling if the horse is moving straight and an almost perfect environment for doing zig-zag lateral work from one side of the road to the other. Side pass to the center, walk straight a few steps, side pass the rest of the way over or back in the opposite direction to the shoulder. We've also managed to throw a few fairly decent shoulders-in work into the mix.

The long, straight riding area has also presented to us the most ideal opportunity to work on lengthening and shortening within the gait. Gabe is getting much, much better at responding quickly to my request and finally (FINALLY!) understanding what I'm asking. Instead of just getting faster, faster, faster at the walk or trot, he is actually lengthening his stride. Yes, it does get a tad faster, but most importantly, his strides get longer. And the same goes for shortening, he doesn't just get slower, his strides get shorter. Yay! Breakthrough!

The most unexpected bonus of doing so much road riding? His feet, they look absolutely fantastic! We've been doing so much road riding that the abrasive surface is keeping his feet well-shaped and at the correct length. His hind hooves are flaring a bit, as they always do, but we have zero extra length on them.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

On Being a Seller

So, I'm trying to reduce my herd from five down to two (this doesn't include Teddy, my boarder). I don't have time to ride everyone (after all, I only have one butt!) and feeding a bunch of pasture puffs is becoming a little bit insane, even for me.

I am actively marketing one right now, Montana. He's the five year old paint cross we picked up this summer. He's a real sweet horse, and smart and fun to ride, just not the "right" horse for my husband. Jaquie and I have a done quite a bit of work with him and I think he'll make an excellent horse for someone who wants to do just about anything. I've had a few interested buyers ask about him, but nothing more than that. I have him listed on a couple of websites and a couple of boards on Facebook.

It's winter, it's a tough time to sell horses right now, I know this. I'm hoping things will pick up a bit when the weather starts warming up and horse people who take the winter off start thinking about dusting off tack and getting back into the groove of riding.

In the meantime, for those of you who have successfully sold horses, can you offer any selling tips?

So far, this is the ad I've been posting.

And this is the video I have of him that I have posted on some sites and send if requested.

I have photos from both sides of him (which are posted) and also have front and rear photos if someone wants those.

I'm never quite sure how to price a horse, so I peruse the 'net for similar horses with similar training and price about median of what I find. I think he's priced reasonably and I do have a rock bottom price I'd be willing to take if offered by the right potential owner. I don't want to under price him as I can't raise the price as easily as I can negotiate a lower price.

Any suggestions on how to beef up that ad, maybe change wording? Would you add or remove anything?

Calypso will be the next ad I create, as soon as it's decent enough out to get video and get her cleaned up enough to take fairly flattering photos.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Crazy Good Extensions

I think my face has thawed. Pretty sure most of the feeling has returned, but it's windburned and red today.

Two hours out in the cold wind yesterday morning. Two hours of riding the farm roads down in the bottoms and hurrying to the next turn in the road so the wind would be at our backs, not blasting our faces and numbing our ears, cheeks and chins.

Two hours with two horses who couldn't decide if they wanted to have a plod along ride or a sitting-on-dynamite ride so they gave us both, equally.

And it was fun. Gabe and Teddy are so funny when we take them out together, they are like bi-polar psychics. One moment both are plodding along as Jacquie and I work work work to just get a decent forward walk. The next moment, as if on cue, both horses are FORWARD and silly, wanting to move as fast as we will let them go, trying to race each other while we keep them from getting too insane and out of control.

Gabe gives me the move beautiful extended trots on these trail rides, extended trots I wish I could achieve in the arena. I'd be pleased as punch with half a dozen good extended trot strides in the arena, but I can't even get one similar to what he offers freely on the trail. Those extended trots are HARD to ride, I can neither post nor sit it, so I hover in a half-seat, and work to just get out of his way as his back lifts, his shoulders LIFT! and so much power comes from behind I feel like I'm riding a jet engine. Jacquie says he looks amazing and powerful, I can only attest that if he looks anything like what I feel in the saddle, he could take your breath away.

The feeling is incredible as the wind pounds my face and rushes through the air vents in my helmet (who thought THAT was a good idea for winter riding? Ugh! Nothing like cold air rushing in concentrated streams onto your head) He snorts with every stride and I swear I could feel him smiling. He's a very, very vocal horse with all his squeals, grunts, snorts and sighs. You never wonder how he is feeling, he's quick to let you know, vocally. For most of the extended trot I can keep him on the bit and well-rounded, but, with all that push, all that effort, he tires. That's when I have to work to keep him rounded, not flat and falling onto his forehand, and ease him back into a working trot. A trot that's easier to ride, easier to post.

I think the grin of that ride was frozen to my face hours after it ended. The arena may be too slick, too muddy to do any work in right now, but what an excuse for an amazing extended trot down a long, straight, pea-gravel and dirt road.

P.S. I've been trying to post snow photos, but Blogger is being a crab about it. I will keep persevering!