Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Mud & Puddle Jumping

Last night we were greeted by a peculiarly dirty filly! She made her way across the pasture at a deliberate walk. Casi commented that the sun would probably be down by the time she got to us, which was nearly true. But it was sweet to see her on her way - she whinnied to us about halfway there, and I was a proud horse momma. Even if she wasn't in a hurry last night, I love that she comes readily, even when it means leaving the rest of the herd behind.

Anyway, when we got her up to brush her, her creamy white tail was grey and stiff. I picked it up in confusion, slowly realizing that it was stuffed with mud and silt. Our princess is usually pretty tidy, so it was strange for her to come in covered in mud. Plus, all the mud was on her hind end. Did she sit in the pond? We'll never know.

After washing the tail and giving her a good grooming, we had a brief leading lesson with the dressage whip this time. She's very calm about the whip, likely because she hasn't had any bad experiences with it (thank goodness). I worked on tapping her lightly on the hindquarters to ask her to move her rear end over, and tapping on her chest/front legs to ask her to back up. She caught on very quickly, and also gave me a good strong trot in-hand, which she is usually grudging about. We also had the opportunity to practice crossing puddles since there are a few left near the gate of the barn. She did not want to get her little feet muddy!

To get her to cross the puddle, we started with something she knew. Her immediate reaction was to fling her head up in the air and resist. So I patiently waited for her to drop her head, and then released pressure. Soon she was sniffing the puddle and standing relaxed. This is how I hope she will behave on the trail one day. I'd much rather have her do the balk-head lower-sniff than the spaz-rear-bolt when she's confronted with something scary. Once she seemed calm, I would ask her again to come forward. If the head jerked up, I held pressure until she put it back down, and then I released. Though she wasn't thrilled about it at first, she soon crossed the puddles with a minimum of fuss. It was very rewarding to see how quickly she learned when I asked her nicely and consistently, teaching her that pressure was released when she put her head down and crossed the puddle (rather than beating her with the whip until she crossed, like some idiots might).

Halo is a truly intelligent and sensitive filly. I think it would be easy to ruin her in the wrong hands. I hope now that I am an older and more conscientious horse owner than I was as a child/teenager that I will always know when to keep pushing her, and when I need to step back from things and make sure I am being reasonable in my expectations and requests. So far things are going well, and I'm also having a good time getting back in the groove. My goal is to be able to take her to some open shows next year, and show her in Halter or other in-hand classes just to give her the experience of the show environment.

It was getting dim by the time we left last night, but I did manage to snap this one good picture of Halo. She was convinced that Casi still had treats in her pockets.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Beginners, Trust, and Bonding

Last night I finally made it to the barn with Casi in tow. I'm still a little sick, and Casi had her shorts with the "treat pockets," so she got to do a lot of the work.

When we got the filly up to brush her and take care of her, Casi asked a question that took me by surprise.

"Can I pick out her feet?"

I quickly weighed the options, shocked by the question. Casi is a hoof-picking novice, having only done it a time or two on a couple of the barn owners well-trained horses. Both those times she seemed nervous and unsure, and I certainly wouldn't have called hoof-picking one of her preferred activities. Now Halo, well, she's a hoof-picking novice, too. It was just over a month ago that she wouldn't even let us touch her legs, much less pick up her feet.

"Uh, okay," I said hesitantly, as a series of potential disasters flashed through my head. Halo stood there nonchalantly, resting one of her back legs. I gave her a fervent look.

Casi grabbed the hoof pick and went to work like it was no big deal at all. Meanwhile, I stood restlessly near Halo's head, trying to refrain from fussing with the filly in my anxiousness. Casi held Halo's off front leg probably longer than I ever have, awkwardly working away at the hoof. As the seconds ticked on, I waited for the inevitable jerk-and-stomp move from Halo. The filly blinked a blonde-lashed eye at me, standing peacefully until her foot was released.

Then it was time for a back hoof, which made my heart begin to race. What if she kicks? I thought. What if she jerks away or hurts Casi? A thousand paranoid scenarios were running through my head. By the time I shuffled through them, Casi was already done with the hoof and had moved on to the other hind leg.

As Casi made her way to the final front hoof, I could swear Halo had a smug expression on her big blazed face. But she'd earned it - I'm not sure I've ever been so proud of her as I was in that moment. And I was incredibly proud of Casi too - for taking on an activity that usually makes her nervous, and doing it like a rock star. I don't think she had any idea how on edge I was about it until afterwards.

As hard as it is to admit, especially as a paranoid re-rider, sometimes you have to trust your horse. And trust that the bond between people and horses is the best measure of what a horse is willing to do for you.

Casi explained that she felt safer doing Halo's feet because Halo is so much smaller than the other horses she's done. Also, she knows Halo and has worked with her more than the others. Of course in my mind, I had been thinking "oh-my-god-psycho-barely-trained-yearling-could-explode-at-any-second!!!" Sometimes trust trumps age or training. I am glad that my paranoia was proved wrong.

There's been a lot of talk lately about trust on a couple of blogs I read. Mugwump wrote a great post about the ability of horses to overcome our silliest errors - as long as we trust them. She told the story with the simple eloquence she always does, illustrating it with the example of her daughter's horse. The Zambito Oaks Farm blog also had a similar post called, "Young, Dumb but Havin' Fun" that was a similar reminiscence.

Thank you bloggers, and thank you Casi, for reminding me that it's not just training that makes a good horse. It's also trust in equal measure.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Water Baby

I'm sick! Summer colds are the worst, especially in Texas since it's so stupidly hot outside. Thanks to the mucous rampage occurring in my head I haven't been out to the barn since before the "Bad Boarder" post, but I'm headed out tomorrow.

The big problem at our barn right now is TICKS. Coming from Oregon, I'm not used to bugs as big as small rats being everywhere. Poor Halo has a double earful of ticks right now. Today is going to be a progress check for her since last week I treated her with Ivermectin. She even let me spray some fly spray into her ears, which I could hardly believe. I ordered some spot-treatment to help kill and repel the ticks, so hopefully with that combination arsenal in action she will once again be a happy baby.

One thing that has surprised me about Halo is her affinity for water. The first time I sprayed her, she acted like it was the apocalypse. Every time thereafter, she has seemed to mostly enjoy it. Even when she gets little bumps and scrapes, she stands quietly to be cold-hosed, especially if feed is involved. She likes to drink out of the hose, and play with the water with her lips.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Bad Self-Care Boarder

I need some advice.

I've always considered myself a responsible person, and I do my best to be a conscientious boarder. My horse lives at a private barn on 80 acres. All the horses are on 100% turnout with run-in shelter. I am the only boarder. How much trouble could I cause? Plenty, it seems.

This morning the barn owner called me at 7:30 to let me know that the horses were all in the top pasture, and she was very upset about it. She knew I'd been there because I'd replenished Halo's feed bin last night. And of course this morning the gate was wide open between the run-in for the lower pasture and the upper pasture. I am a natural suspect. There have been at least two or three extra times that I've done something wrong with a gate - usually because I've had to move some horses out of the barn area so I'd have somewhere to groom and work with Halo.

The funny thing is, this time it wasn't me. Last night as we were leaving, I told Casi to wait a minute - that I had to go back to make sure all the gates were latched. And I did, and they were. This morning....loose horses all together in the top pasture.

If I were the barn owner, I would be damn pissed too. There are very good reasons she doesn't want all the horses in together yet. There are three babies still unweaned, and her gelding (recent ex-stallion) is extremely protective of "his" mare and her baby. They are usually kept up top together, and don't go in with everyone else. So this morning, she found them all in together, and one of the other babies had an injury.

Obviously I need to do something to improve this situation. While last night wasn't my fault, plenty of times the mismanaged gates have been my fault. How hard is it to make sure all the horses are in the right places with latched gates before I leave? You wouldn't think it would be. Lately I've tried to minimize moving any of the horses, just to give me less chance to screw up. But I think I need another system.

Do I make a checklist and tape it to the dash of my car? Do I offer to pay the barn owner $5 every time a gate is closed or open that shouldn't be? These things shouldn't be hard to remember. And I would never intentionally put horses in the wrong place. My barn owner is a great person. The horses have a good life. She takes wonderful care of them and is generally just a smart, good person. Why do I keep making myself look like an idiot?

Even though last night wasn't my fault, I've still been walking around today feeling awful about it. Maybe because I am the perfect culprit for having left the gate open. If I were the barn owner, I would have placed the blame in exactly the same place. How did I become such a scattered person that I can't even latch and unlatch the right gates consistently? I could really use some advice about how to deal with this situation. It will be a while before I can leave, even if that turns out to be the best thing. As much as I like where my horse is boarded now, I would rather leave there than be the idiot who endangers the barn owner's horses by leaving the wrong gate open or closed.

Is full care a better option for me, even if it's tougher on my pocketbook? I would love to hear what advice anyone has for how to manage my own idiocy. Right now I feel so awful that I don't even want to go out there to see my horse for fear that I'll make another stupid mistake.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Owww....It Hurts So Good!

It's probably too much information for you three people out there who read this, but today my shoulders are so sore that it hurts to wear a bra! My back is a lovely tapestry of knots tied by an amazingly well-trained reining mare. As these knots were being tied, I alternately felt like a complete idiot, and a not-so-bad rider who was actually doing well fumbling her way through something completely new and different.  

I had a blast.

For the 0.02 individuals out there who stumble across this blog by accident and don't know me personally, my background is in dressage. There's a little bit of show jumping thrown in there, along with the random gamut of events that come from being part of 4-H. I am honestly not sure what kind of rider I would call myself. These days I mostly ride bareback, with adherence to the basic principles I learned in dressage. The point is, I ride english...except for one very silly venture into Western on my thoroughbred. I'm sure I looked like a complete moron, and probably have the pictures to prove it. But I digress.

So yesterday was my very first western lesson, and a reining lesson to boot. For those who don't know what reining is, I am probably the wrong person to explain it. From what I understand, it actually has some aspects in common with dressage. Each move in a dressage test earns you a score between 1 and 10, and your final score is a percentage. In reining, you enter the ring with 70 points and can gain or lose points depending on whether you screw up. Emphasis is placed on showing the horse so that his or her movements seem effortless on the part of the rider. Much of the guidance of the horse is done with seat and leg rather than reins. Both reining and dressage have freestyles, which are patterns performed to music. Beyond those basic similarities, however, they're about as alike as cell phones and crack babies.

I say that not because the fundamentals of early training are different; in fact, they are probably much alike. But the way you ride a reining horse and the way you ride a dressage horse feel completely different to me.  The biggest difference for me is that reining horses are ridden off the contact, and dressage horses are ridden on the contact. (For non-horsey people, that means in reining you have slack in the reins, and in dressage the reins should feel like supple elastic making a direct line between your hands and the bit. There is no slack, but you aren't hanging on the horse's face, either).

For my lesson I was fitted up with gigantic spurs (which I nearly tripped and killed myself on every five seconds when I was off the horse). We rode in a big shanked bit, and after some issues with the first saddle, Kyle found a midget saddle that actually fit me. We warmed up at the walk, trot, and lope. The warmup was a great confidence boost, because I found that my dressage training served me well. The reining mare was just as sensitive to my seat and leg movement as any dressage horse would be. Getting three beautiful gaits out of her was effortless. I should also mention that this was by far the most well-trained push button horse I have ever ridden. That mare knew her job, and knew it well. When it came time to get down to business, the first move we attempted was the spin.

Spinning is a transcendent experience all its own. The mare is cued with the rein across her neck, and a tap from the outside spur to push her into the spin. Then, you take your outside leg off the mare and let her do the rest of the work. Bear down into the center of the saddle when you're ready to stop. It may look unusual to a spectator, but sitting on the back of a spinning horse is an amazing experience. I was awed by the athleticism of my mount, as well as by the strange feeling of being lifted off the saddle as she spun faster and faster. It made me feel as though I were levitating. And of course, there's the intoxication dizziness always brings! Here is a video of a horse spinning in each direction:

Sliding stops were the other main feature of my lesson, and incidentally also what I had the most trouble with. I've never been much of a speed junkie, so the thought of tearing across the arena (with no walls, mind you) at mach 10 and then skidding 15 feet to a dead halt seemed a bit intimidating. I thought my stomach was going to try and exit through my feet before we did the first rundown. Also, my friend Tara warned me that I'd better sit back, or be prepared to fly over the saddle horn. Yikes! Anyway, we loped down the center of the arena, and pushed out into a slow gallop, and then I sat back. I'm sure I looked like a sack of potatoes. Poor mare! It took a few times, but I finally began to get the hang of it by the end of the lesson. Our last stop was a big old slide. Kyle whooped for us and said, "if you're going to stop like that, I guess I don't need to school that mare today!" I was happy to end on a good note and to feel like I was getting the hang of things after all.
Here is a video of a sliding stop:

And now so you don't all fear that I've gone completely to the dark side and become a true Texan, here is a very cool dressage freestyle that has gained some internet popularity of late. This is a stunning ride from Andreas Helgstrand on the mare Blue Hors Matine.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Trying Something Different

So tomorrow is my first reining lesson. I am excited and a bit nervous. Not only is it my first lesson in almost 10 years, it's also my first western lesson. I'm not sure what to expect, though I've been reading a lot lately trying to figure out what this reined cowhorse business is all about.

Mugwump gives some good advice on her blog about taking lessons. She says to listen, and ask questions. So that's what I'm going to try to do. It makes good sense, especially since I'll be in such an unfamiliar branch of equestrian sports. Surely if I can do dressage and show jumping I can do this, right? We'll see.

In other news, I got some new conformation pictures of Halo last Sunday. She's getting a lot better about being tied up, although she did have an argument or two with the tree. (The tree won). I think she's looking a lot more muscular, and seems to be growing like a weed. Of course, the growth may be purely horizontal, thus providing an optical illusion...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Rough Weekend

I'll let the barn owner say it since she said it best:

Rest In Peace Henry Ray Magillicutty, awfully sweet and kinda beautiful buckskin boy.

I am a heartbroken wreck.
On Wednesday, August 6th, Henry Ray went to the vet for elective cryptorchid surgery (gelding with a retained testicle~neuter for you non horsey folks)

Henry had to be put down this morning due to complications from this surgery. Williams opened him up, and the found a hole in the large bowel. He doesn't think he cut him with a scalpel, but thinks he had stitched the large intestine when closing him up. Henry suffered massive peritonitis. I am beyond grief. Williams was so sorry and felt bad. He didn't charge me for putting him down or for the final ride, and I know he didn't mean to do it. I know God has a reason, but today all I can think of is that I hauled him to his death, and that he had to suffer the last day of his life due to my choice. I had planned to take him to A&M and just didn't have the extra resources.

Henry can never be replaced, and nothing will bring him back. He was the affectionate one. The baby forever. The one who would run to me for protection, and would play the days away with anyone who would join him.

I searched for him for so many years. My buckskin boy with no white markings at all... just what I always wanted. So perfect. So kind. So loving. I will miss him more than words can express.

I can't help but feel cheated and angry, and I am struggling with acceptance today.

RIP my beautiful boy. Not a day will pass that I don't regret my choice. I hope you will forgive me in my ignorance. I will listen closer to my heart from here on out. It was a great privilege to have you in my life. I will call for you at the bridge. Please come running.

Henry was 4 yrs and 4 days old this morning. RIP Raymond. You will be missed.

I got this email on Friday morning, though a personal message from Steph preceded it by half an hour or so. It was a rough entry into the weekend. While Henry wasn't my horse, I had worked with him several times and looked forward to continuing that work after he was gelded. While cryptorchid surgery is certainly more complex than a regular gelding, it is not uncommon. There wasn't a good reason for him to die, and it certainly wasn't a likelihood.

It was a sad weekend at the barn. I went out on Friday evening, upset about Henry and about something that happened at work, and Halo whinnied and came running. She doesn't do that every day - I don't know if she just knew momma had treats or if she somehow knew I needed her. Good filly.

I remember Steph telling me about the night that Little Momma had her foal by Henry Raymond. She said even though Little Momma was up at the barn, it was like Raymond knew that it was his baby. He stayed by the gate of the lower pasture, his head raised and ears pricked toward the barn as the night wore on and the foal was born.

I wish he could have lived to see his babies grow up.