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!