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.