Friday, November 28, 2008

The Scary Garbage Can

We went out for a ride today. But before we could get to the ride part, Rudy had to empty out his saddle bag in the trash can behind Canyon.

Now we've dumped things in the trashcan before. I'm always tossing his hair in there and he does just fine. But this time there was a little cascading sound (which I'm sure could have been the sound a lion makes just before it eats horses) and Canyon pulled back, snapped the little cheap temporary carabiner and stood back about three feet.

It's been a long time since he pulled back.

Woody was calm, I remained calm, Rudy remained calm. Canyon stood there, a little worried, but calmed down. I put his bridle on since I don't have anything to hook his rope to without that little carabiner.

Rudy pointed out that this was an indication that this spookiness is just his personality. That it's not something that I can change. After all Woody didn't react at all.

I probably can't change this part of his nature. But I can't get past the idea that I CAN do something.

We talked on the ride about how some people naturally over react. How they can't get their emotions under control even in the most minor of circumstances.

I've lived with people like that. And it's true, it's their nature. But given tools, those people, particularly the ones who don't avoid everything that bothers them, come down from a level 9 freak out to a 6 or 7.

Would I rather have a horse with no freak out? Sure. In fact, if I had more than one horse to ride, I'd probably not ride him much. And that would be terrible. Because this experience has made me a better rider. I have to be precise in my communication with Canyon because he is so sensitive. I have to pay attention to his emotional state because when it is changing I need to be on it immediately.

Sure, I could have an easier horse.

But I don't. I have a horse that requires more of me.

Some folks have a different name for this kind of horse. I believe it's "Alpo."

I just call him my crazy boy. I always went for the crazy boys. The ones that fell outside the norm, the sensitive poets, the dreamers, the ones not on the team but wandering off by themselves.

Why should it be different now? Because I'm older and know better?

Apparently not.

(the sunset above was on Thanksgiving as I went to the stable to deliver a few holiday carrots.)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Why Horses?

I posted this in a comment area on Our First Horse and thought I'd share it here.

Why horses?

I wonder this often, particularly when I'm pressed for time and can't get everything done.

Then, I'm with my horse.

Everything falls away. I'm in a spiritual rhythm with some part of me that is more ancient, more real than almost anything else.

There are no long term plans in this circle with my horse. There is here and now. He looks at me, waiting. I ask him to turn and he does. He reaches out and I meet him. I lean on him and take in the smell of a horse's world: grass, dust, mud, and of course, fly spray.

And I laugh.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Round pen video

I decided to take a video of some of my round pen work with Canyon. Any and all observations are welcome.

Here are my caveats:
  1. he had just ate so I chose not to canter him.
  2. we are new to this "turn your back and have him approach" thing during round penning (which is how Marvin Walker describes it). So I cut him some slack and turned to call him in.
  3. he's never good at coming up to me. He won't leave, he'll drop his head, but he stands there the first time. suggestions?
  4. I'm working on keeping my balance at the trot. I'm sure that's obvious.

Okay, enough excuses. check it out...

Horse whisperers in history

In my geeky internet way I've been hunting down a few old time horse whisperers. I started doing this because I keep coming across sites that sell - for anywhere from $30 to $130 - copies of old, expired copyrighted works, claiming to have secured the rights.

I find that irritating.

First of all, they didn't write it and you can't acquire rights to works in the public domain. Some claim to have come across this dusty volume in antique stores. Whatever. Bottom line is that this work is available for free, at least some of it. As a public service to those who don't have quite the level of inner geek I've been cursed with, here are some links:

First from the book The Horse Whisperer we've got John Solomon Rarey, the original guy who lay down horses:
There was a man from Groveport, Ohio called John Solomon Rarey, who tamed his first horse at the age of twelve. Word of his gift spread and in 1858 he was summoned to Windsor Castle in England to calm a horse of Queen Victoria. The queen and her entourage watched astonished as Rarey put his hands on the animal and laid it down on the ground before them. Then he lay down beside it and rested his head on its hooves.

At this link you can page through his entire book online. Or I've got it as a pdf too, just email me and I'll send it to you. For FREE.

Then there's Professor Jesse Beery, which is available on a CD from a historical preservation site for $21. You can buy it for much more here. Here's some info from historical

Prof. Jesse Beery self-published a Mail Course, an Eight part series in the Instruction of Horsemanship.

Born in 1861 in Pleasant Hill, Ohio, Jesse assisted his father on the family farm, paying special attention to the animals. He had a special gift with horses and developed methods for training and controlling horses. Starting in 1889 at the age of 28 years old (also the same year he got married), Jesse Beery traveled all over teaching others these methods. After his father died in 1905, Jesse returned to the family farm in Pleasant Hill, Ohio and established his School of Correspondence in Horsemanship.

Here's the hype from the other site.
"They LAUGHED At This 100 Year Old
Horse Training Course
- But When They Saw The Results....!"
...they understood they could successfully train their horses
to stop
dozens of bad habits and take complete control,
enjoy riding and working safely with their horses,
without fear or embarrassment.
Time-Proven By
Tens Of Thousands:
The Most Successful Horse Training
Instruction Course In History

Yes. And you can get it for $21 instead of $67. Anyway, I'm going to order the CD for my collection. Once I get it, I'll make it available for free.

I don't begrudge folks making a living by training horses. But this is reselling yesterday's newspapers. Of course for all I know they've added all kinds of new stuff (like color pictures!) and I'm barking up the wrong tree. But I'm not buying one to find out...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Spook. Spook. Spook. AAAAAAAAhhhhhh!

I think a lot about spooking. I've been working on two methods to deal with it. Now I'm looking at two other methods. Despooking Walker style and Lying down a horse.

I'm relunctant scared to try lying down a horse because I think it might be something only an experienced trainer should do. Lord knows I don't need to traumatize my horse - and me - any more than we already are. LOL

So I'm going Walker style first. I just ordered a video from Marv Walker. I tend to have a very cynical approach to all these videos, since I've discovered most of them don't really give you any information you don't already know from the 500 magazines and books and internet articles. But Walker's are inexpensive and his writing on his website has been on target with everything I've experienced. If only he worked in Texas!

So I'll give it a shot. Here's what he says about despooking(my comments in parenthesis):

There is the desensitizing method where you expose the horse to the spooker until it ignores it. (this is what I've done with Canyon) The horse gets so saturated with the spook that it fails to react to it. (true. there isn't a pink hula skirt in the world that will get a rise out of MY horse.) You put the horse and the spook together and leave them alone. The horse will become used to the spooker and life will go on.
Then there is the sniffer method. (this is what we are doing now) In the sniffer method you concentrate on getting the horse to move up to the item to the point where it can examine it and assure itself that the spook is not out to devour every horse that stumbles across it.
Both of these methods are a hassle.(well, not so much, but yeah, they get to be in trail situations)
If you succeed in the first method you are good to go until the horse comes across something else that spooks it and then you have to go through the whole process again.(Exactly. I don't have a ton of rusty farm equipment or odd shaped trunks of trees around here)
If you survive the second method, since horses really resent being made to approach and sniff spooks, you are teaching the horse to stop and approach everything of concern to it. Every new thing brings what you doing to a skidding halt while you and your horse examine it.(And it doesn't really deal with the whole initial spook thing.)

 He goes on to describe that you make everything that spooks your fault and therefore the horse waits to see if you are going to freak out.  I am getting tired of everything being my fault, but maybe in this case it can work in my favor...

Anyway, it's worth a shot.

Canyon is a wooly bear, the cold snaps have brought out his fuzzy side. I remember stripping off this winter coat in March, piles and piles of hair flotaing around the barn yard like cottonwood seedlings.  I'll get some pictures today... In 30 days it'll be a year since I bought Canyon. Our horseyversary.

First year is paper, right? Hmmm. I'm thinking an oragami horse. How hard can it be?

Maybe I'll stick with a carrot.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Circles in the Field

My issue with Canyon comes down to extending his trust in me as a leader. So today, quite by accident, I did something that impacted that issue.

I can work Canyon in the round pen and he does fantastic. Licks, chews, one ear on me... all good.  But I still can't ride him out alone. He is so freaked out that I know he's thinking about lions and not giving to me as a leader. He trusts me, will take leadership, but only so far.

So today we took him for a walk to the back area of the land at the stables. It's really pretty out there, but it's out of sight of the stables and the horses consider it "off road." I was leading him with the kids on him and as we got further around the bend he started to come apart. I took the kids off and they went to play while I worked with him.

I had my new long lead rope and lunged him in the pasture. Initially he was just trotting with his head high, ears to the front, so paranoid you could have sworn there were crocodiles everywhere. I kept turning him, slowly getting more and more of his attention. by the end I could feel his energy change and he came down from his fear place - not all the way, but part of the way. The kids were getting done with all of this, so I couldn't quite go for another 30 minutes, which is probably what it would have  taken. But he was consistently responding to my verbal commands, turning his ear toward me for more of the time and acting much more respectful.

This, I realize, is what I need to do. Establish leadership away from our routine.

I think. I'm going to ask on one of my list serves and get some opinions...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Madeline Pickens rescues wild horses

wow.  Read about it here.

Madeleine Pickens, wife of billionaire T. Boone Pickens, made known her intentions to adopt not just the doomed wild horses but most or all of the 30,000 horses and burros kept in federal holding pens. Lifelong animal lovers, the Pickenses just a few years ago led the fight to close the last horse slaughterhouse in the United States.
Madeleine Pickens is looking for land in the West that would be an appropriate home for the horses.

Think she can get the 19 million acres back too?  Madeleine Pickens is my new cowgirl hero. Couldn't find her email anywhere, but I bet if you send your thanks here, it'll get to her:

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Near gear

It's beautiful. Those folks at Black Pond have exceeded my expectations with their lead rope, reins and halter. Here's a picture of the riding halter which you can clip your reins into.

I'll post more tomorrow, I forgot my camera and these are from my phone. The reins are like buttah... I'm just waiting for one little rope they left off. Fantastic detailing and craftsmanship at Black Pond. Glad I spent more time shopping around so I could get the color combos I wanted. I like black on Canyon because he has those black touches on his ears and in his mane...

Thanks to my big sister who bought them for me as a birthday gift. I'd say you shouldn't have, but it wouldn't be sincere. You'd read right through it.

Of course I had to try riding Canyon without a bit in - only his riding halter. He did very well in the arena, where we are working on gaits and transitions. Then we went out on a brief trail ride with Rudy and Canyon did fairly well only in his riding halter, particularly when I noticed that I was nervous. When I got all zen-ish, he calmed down. It was very windy and he still did great other than obsessively checking the pasture for dreaded Texas hill country horse eating crocodiles.

Sometimes you are leading and ya don't even know it.

Not sure I'm ready to give up the bit yet, but it was a good experience. How many times to I have to read that a bit isn't what stops your horse before I believe it?


Really fun places to go: If you haven't seen the lying down of the horse technique, get thee to GNH's site right now. Very cool video!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Can you hear me?

It always happens. I sneak away for some Horse Time and my cell phone rings and it's the call I waited for for three hours and now I'm in the round pen and I have to take it!

So I decided to try to train anyway. I sat down on the mounting block and Canyon faced me. After about 2 minutes he started to look away, and I slammed the stick. Zappo. Back to paying attention. 5 minutes... ooo, what's over there...


Back to paying attention. After that he kept both ears and eyes on me.

So yes. You can train, even when you have your cell phone on.

And here's today's inane horseyish product: a cell phone holder in the shape of a horse. Lord help us.

Wild Horses - still slated for euthanasia

I guess they figure we will be distracted by the election, economy and the holidays...
From the Cloud Foundation:
The National BLM Advisory Board for the Wild Horse and Burro Program will hold a meeting on Monday, November 17th in Reno, Nevada and will discuss the BLM euthanasia plan. The public is encouraged to attend and share their comments.

“This board is stacked against wild horses,” says Carol Walker, equine photographer and author of Wild Hoofbeats. “It is possible that they will condone euthanasia for healthy wild horses that belong to the American people,”

Over 19 million acres originally designated for wild horse use are currently empty of horses. The Cloud Foundation recommends the return of healthy wild horses to these ranges wherever possible. “Without immediate action to stop the BLM from continuing to mismanage wild horses, America may lose its mustangs forever,” Kathrens concludes.

Time to call and write. These are your horses, and they've got land we set aside for them, a fact ignored by the GAO report (who's methodology was focused on talking to the BLM which is leasing land to cattle ranching. Hmm. wonder why they are trying to get rid of 30,000 horses).

Here's a good news story from Salt Lake Trib on the GAO study.

an excerpt:
But Karen Sussman, president of the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros - the South Dakota nonprofit group that initiated and helped push through the 1971 law - said Monday that the BLM has acted illegally by rounding up the horses without first determining whether they had damaged the range.
Sussman said a 1990 GAO report recommended that the BLM also curtail the number of livestock on the range. "If you want to improve habitat," she said, "you need to remove livestock."

From Newsweek:
What are the biggest threats to the wild horse population?
I think it comes down to mismanagement. Study after government study, dating back to the Teddy Roosevelt administration, shows that it's livestock grazing that does the most damage to the range, not wild horses. You can't say that 20-something-thousand horses are doing more damage to the land than 4 million cows. Yet the Bureau of Land Management claims that wild horses are overrunning the West and that there is an "overpopulation" problem. It's simply not true. The only place there is an overpopulation problem is in government corrals—because the horses shouldn't have been removed from their home turf in such great numbers to begin with.

Then what's spurring the BLM to cut herd sizes?

There are a number of factors. The livestock lobby regards mustangs as pests, animals that steal food from cows, and since members of the lobby lease federal land for ranching, they pressure the BLM to curb the wild mustang population. There are also a lot of other things happening on public lands these days: increased oil and gas drilling, mineral leases, development. The BLM is supposed to determine how many wild horses as well as cows and sheep the range can support with range studies, but these are not always up to date. What this all comes back to is mismanagement: The fox is guarding the henhouse.

Readers comments from news stories around the country:

The real question is why are these horses in captivity in the first place? They are supposed to be protected on the 34 million acres allotted for them by Congress. Less than 15,000 are left on that land. And that's only 1/2 of 1% of BLM land! This certainly doesn't seem like what the 1971 law intended. Mining, energy and cattle interests have hijacked the BLM process that should have protected these animals. A better solution than shooting them would be to let some go and have the BLM partner with private interests to manage reserves for the horses and burros. You can go to to find out more about what can be done. Doing anything will take time but if the BLM kills them, that's an irreversible loss.

here's another:

The cattle out number the wild horses and burros 400 to 1 on OUR federal land. Their land is being dwindled away by mineral extraction, sheep, cattle, industry & development.

We just need them to get these horses, our horses, back on the land we established for them and stop caving in to the cattle ranchers, miners and developers.
(Here's a cool blog I found about a man who has adopted and trained wild mustangs. Gorgeous photography too).

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Things that no longer scare my horse

I have a spook bag of things I take to the stables to freak out Canyon. It's like Halloween every day!

Okay, maybe not.

Anyway, these items are officially in retirement:

Swimming noodles. He'll even step on them. You can wave them all over, wail on him with them and he just stands there, bored.

You can put the pink hula skirt on his head. It's incredibly amusing. Unless you're the horse, then it's embarrassing.

The silver window sun blocking thing. No problem.

Next we'll be going with tarps and large balls. Bwaaa haaa haa! (that was an evil laugh).

So do you know how to despook your horse to a pink hula skirt? Here are the steps I was taught:

  1. Halter up and have a nice, long lead line. 12' at least. Get thee to the round pen or another enclosed area.
  2. Scrunch up the scary item as small as possible and rub it on the shoulder.
  3. Work it around and around going down the back, legs, belly and up the neck to the head. Touch every part of your horse.
  4. Gradually let the item get larger and more floppy. Keep doing it until your horse doesn't even flinch.
  5. Go to the other side and do it all over again (because you have two horses. the one on the right side and the one on the left).
  6. Get progressively crazier, waving it around until your horse sees you as "an annoying little brother" and will just stand there and sigh instead of looking for an escape.
  7. Leave the item on the horse's head and take an amusing photo.
  • Optional: I wasn't taught this, but I also put the scary thing on the ground, since Canyon has an issue with things on the ground. Then I try to get him to walk fairly close to it. He doesn't have to step on it, but he has to go in a circle around it and remain focused on me.
Reward your horse with a cookie at the wash rack. It's a tramatic thing you're doing to him/her. Cookies make it all better. Okay, maybe not, but when you have a horse that smiles for cookies it's worth the oats.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Lead changes

(Lead? Now you're gettin' fussy on me, missy. Hand over the cookie and no one gets hurt.)

Rudy, who is a much better rider than me and my equal as a horse geek, has been teaching me about lead changes.

When you ride a bucking horse, you aren't all that worried about lead changes. You are worried about... well, more basic issues.

But like all things with horses, the more tools you have to achieve a measure of discipline, the less likely you'll be dealing with bucking. At least that's what I saw with Canyon yesterday.

I was working on "things on the ground that will eat me" issues. I put down a sunshade and eventually got him to walk on it. Then he ALMOST walked on a black plastic bag, which does look like a huge hole in the ground. I forgot my blue tarp, which is what I really need to get started with. Overall a good start. His freak out factor went way down.

When Rudy got there we started riding and he started showing me how he's working with Woody on lead changes. Woody has a really tight gate, so I find it tough to see his lead, but have finally gotten the hang of it. (Here's a good article on leads) As Rudy took Woody through a figure 8 pattern I called out what lead he was on. Here's what they did.

  1. Take off on the trot.
  2. Cue (by pressure on the left leg, open leg on the right) for a right lead lope
  3. Head into a right turn on the right lead.
  4. Return to the center of the figure 8, slow to a trot.
  5. Cue for left lead lope (pressure on the right, open leg on the left)
  6. Head into the left turn
  7. Return to the center of the figure 8, slow to a trot
  8. Rinse and repeat.

For me, this is like patting your head and rubbing your tummy when you're a kid. You have to stop and focus completely to get it, but once you discover the rhythm, you are solid. Unless you stop and have to do it again.

So Canyon's biggest hurdle was me. I had to remember the "aids" (cues are for tricks, aids are your body moves. whaddevvah). When I first tried to head out I was a mess, and he was getting pretty confused. I switched to using the barrels as a visual figure 8 instead of just doing it free hand.

At first Canyon was pretty stubborn. He wanted to hang out with Woody, stand there while I talked, make subtle ear signals with the geldings in the other pasture. Earlier he'd given me a few idyll threats when we were loping, nothing dramatic, just some head action. He was testing my resolve, and I headed them off readily.

So when he didn't want to leave Woody I turned him in place, slapped his butt with my hand (I don't use a crop) and kicked him out. His attitude went from "yawn" to "oh, yeah, I know you! You're the serious one."

I was firm - something I am getting better at - and we were off. At first I had to really kick him into the lead. By the end of the session we had it down. It took progressively less pressure to get him to respond. It was a great feeling! Here we were doing the most complicated maneuver I've ever tried and at the end his attitude and listening was fantastic. Now I get it - the more you can do with your horse, the better your horse will connect with you. They HAVE to listen. You are establishing leadership from the saddle with your seat, legs and reins and you have to focus to soften up and reward - which is part of what they look for from a leader. It's not just about doing the maneuver. It's about doing something more in the relationship.

And I really need to work on transitions with Canyon - up and down from lope to trot to lope to trot to whoa. Over and over. This will give us a good thing to work on in that area.

Another step forward? I think so.

Afterwards, Canyon ponied the kids around (he's always been great at that). Here's a quick video of my husband leading Sierra, my oldest...

Off topic - skunks

Warning, there are no horses in this post. only a skunk.

I write about kids on my other blog - but recently had an encounter with a skunk reminded me of how companies deal with wildlife concerns. Here's the story and a follow up (thanks, Cynthia!). Since writing this I've learned General Mills has done NOTHING to deal with the problem of skunks dying with their garbage on their heads. Don't eat Yoplait yogurt. Send a note to these folks that you won't be back until they really fix the problem. Spread the word on your blogs too.

In 1999 they had met with groups to "try to solve the problem." They printed "please crush your can" on the container. Maybe with enough negative attention they'll do more.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Raising a Stink

Nothing says Daddy at our house like a wildlife encounter. The father of my children has what I consider an over developed need to bother animals that have the terrible misfortune of being spotted.

A few weeks ago we were at a friends ranch and the kids ran in screaming about the snake in the window. It was curled up safely on the other side of the screen, digesting a mouse.

So of course my husband had to extricate it, creating more screaming, then demonstrate the correct holding technique, point out the mousey lump in its belly, and generally ruin the snake’s day. This is the fourth snake to enter the wildlife legend collection which also includes two fawns, a buffalo, a hawk, many bees, and the all time favorite – a skunk.

(this child in the photo is in the UK and a clear inspiration for my husband)

In fact, the very favorite story our daughters like to tell their friends is the-time-daddy-was-sprayed-by-a-skunk story. It’s been such a popular story I’m surprised they haven’t written a song about it, complete with lyrics like

“He just had to go and see what that noise could be,” and

“Three days are really long when you smell pretty strong.”

But this weekend we had a new skunk story. Sierra was up early with her friend Cammie, who had stayed overnight. Along with Mireya they’d created a haunted house the night before complete with a zombie (a broken Spiderman piƱata wrapped in toilet tissue and splattered with red food dye). So they were especially attuned to scary noises.

Like the sound of a skunk with a can stuck on its head at 6 am.

“Mommy! There’s a skunk outside and it’s got a can on its head! It’s going to DIE!”

Sure enough a skunk, undoubtedly the one that has sprayed our dogs more than once, was wandering the yard with a yogurt container stuck on its tiny head. We ran outside to…

This was where I paused to consider my options. I was driving the kids to Marble Falls in a few hours, and if I got sprayed it was going to be a looong trip. So, wisely, we woke up our wildlife handler, who, with a plastic raincoat and thick gloves actually picked up the skunk, yanked off the yogurt container and stood there in ideal spraying range.

I prayed I was up wind.

The skunk blinked a few times, then calmly left, tail down in appreciation.

So cut up those yogurt cans, folks. But keep your skunk handler on standby.

By the way, this is a real issue. Boycott Yoplait, they don't give a darn about fixing the problem:
Activists raise stink for 'skunk safe' yogurt
By Andrew Quinn

SAN FRANCISCO July 17 (Reuters) - Your tuna sandwich may not be hurting the dolphins, but is your yogurt skunk safe?

In a new campaign, a California animal rights group has declared that Yoplait brand yogurt containers are leading to the agonizing deaths of skunks across the country.

"Thousands of skunks and other wildlife are dying in yogurt containers," Camilla Fox of the Sacramento, California-based Animal Protection Institute said Friday.

"They jam their heads in as they are looking for yogurt and then get trapped."

The stink over skunk-safe yogurt follows earlier campaigns for dolphin-safe tuna, in which animal rights activists targeted tuna fishing nets they said were responsible for the needless deaths of dolphins.

Fox said Yoplait, with its distinctive tapered container, is equally deadly for skunks.

"They are attracted to the smell of the yogurt, and wedge their heads into the container," she said. "When they try to pull out, the rim that curves in acts as a locking mechanism against the animal's fur.

"Because they have short legs, they are unable to push against the container to extricate themselves."

Fox said the skunks, locked in a Yoplait helmet they cannot remove, are blinded and frequently die of suffocation.

"They bump around, they get run over by cars, and they obviously are easy prey," Fox said. "It is a fairly brutal death. One they don't deserve."

Officials at General Mills Inc , the maker of Yoplait, say they have been taking the problem seriously enough to mount rigorous design tests in which they stuff fake skunk heads made of foam into different prototype containers.

Larry Sawyer, General Mills' Director of Government Relations, was not available to comment Friday. But he told the San Jose Mercury News the company was trying to help.

"It is a problem," he said. "We're working on a solution."

Over the next several weeks, a new, "skunk friendlier" Yoplait container with a warning to consumers and a special ridge at the bottom to help skunks extricate themselves will hit supermarket shelves. But the familiar tapered design will stay because it makes the brand recognizable, Sawyer said.

Fox and other skunk advocates say this is not enough, and are encouraging consumers to write to General Mills president Steve Sanger to demand a total container revamp.

"We are trying to negotiate with them," Fox said. "We want to talk more before we call for a boycott."

Donna Backus, a Massachusetts wildlife rehabilitator who was one of the first to identify the Yoplait threat to skunks, says General Mills officials simply do not understand how dangerous the containers can be.

"I'd like to put a huge Yoplait container on the CEO of General Mills and set him out loose on the streets of New York," Backus told the Mercury News.

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Invasive Politics

I recently joined a list serve and found something there that I've found on a few horse blogs this political season.


AKA devisive political bickering.

I work in politics. If you want to know where I stand, look me up on Facebook. If you want political wrangling, there are a million sites devoted to it. Fights are easy to find in today's political climate.

But I ride horses to escape all that ... manure. When I'm working with my horse I forget everything. I am in that moment, free from the pressure we've all put on ourselves. So when I geek out on line looking for virtual horse time, it sure would be nice to leave politics out of it, short of advocacy for horse related issues.

I've cleared out my blog roll of folks that will spend the next four years whining/crowing. I'm going to stick it out on this one list serve for another week, hopefully people will take their spurs to their horses rather than each other.

If not, I'm out of there. It's incredible to me that anyone believes you can change another person's mind in a fundamental way. There are always people in the middle - they shift from one side to the other. But at either end of the spectrum?

You might as well try to keep a horse from an open bag of sweet feed.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Not riding and Marv Walker

I went out to the stables in the middle of the day for a long lunch hour (been putting in some serious night hours, so I'm due). I didn't feel much like riding, I've been fighting fatigue for a week and haven't wanted to do much.

Horses have been switched around the six different pastures at the stables. Canyon wasn't with his buddy, Woody. Woody has been standing in the horse trough (the one with the automatic waterer) and splashing his belly, then rolling in the mud. He looks like a crocodile, huge mud patches all over his body.

(Troughs. not just for bathing cowboys and shrinking boots.)

Maybe it's because the flies have gotten bad and he's part swine, or maybe he's just a horse that requires entertainment. Either way he's busting the floats so he had to move into a pasture with a hose fed trough instead. So Canyon was out with one of the sorrels. He also had a pretty good bite on him, which may be another reason Sharon separated him out. With Spirit gone, there's a shifting of herd boss and that's never a peaceful process.

They could learn something from the election and peaceful transfer of power. Fox news not withstanding.

Anyway, when I came out he walked up to me and was nodding away the flies. (Yes, I figured out he wasn't nodding in love. I found this out when I went out two weeks ago and every horse was nodding at me. They LOVE me! I am Queen! LOL)

I tossed a bareback pad on him and we went for a walk around. We sniffed at the tables and chairs (which weren't nearly as scary this time. I wonder if courage is building?) and did a warm up in the arena. Then we headed out the road and worked on courage, listening and leadership from the saddle.

As good as Canyon is on the ground, and as good as we seem to connect, he's not all the way there. This horse seems connected with me, but it's not there in the saddle. I can lead him into anything and he'll follow me around the arena, back, turn, everything without a touch on the lead line. But it's not translating when I get on his back.

I recently discovered Marv Walker, (in this picture) who I'm really enjoying reading. He's got a method called "the bonder" which has a few aspects different from Parelli and Lyons:
  1. you enter the round pen and remove everything from your horse. no lead line. no halter.
  2. you "push" your horse with the pressure of your eyes, body and attitude. I suspect I'll need my stick still.
  3. lowering their head is a big sign to look for. Canyon lowers his head almost immediately, so that's a good sign, I guess...
  4. you turn your back and make them come to you, then lead them around.
I'm going to give it a try in the next few days. You can get his info for free, and I just signed up for his email list. He even takes questions by PHONE. Can you imagine?

He's a big believer in pain causing lots of these issues and since Canyon had a dropped heel, I'm going to have him checked out by the horse chiropractor at the end of the year. I know he's a panic, but pain can escalate that. I know, my husband has chronic back pain and when it flares up, he responds over the top to everything.

So maybe it's an issue. Anyone have experience with back crackers for horses?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Courage a blade at a time

We went out for a ride around the stables. There is something about riding in that familiar area that makes Canyon less confident. He sees lions everywhere. In fact I'm always more sure of a quiet ride when we go someplace he's never been before.

Why do some horses lose it in familiar trail surroundings?

I'm having a hard time finding the logic of it. Maybe it's something like parenting. You know how your child is always better behaved with strangers? They can't take a chance that they might be with someone less likely to accommodate their behavior. Or maybe they have to test the waters. Or maybe they know that they are in a less safe situation.

Is that what it is with horses? When we are at a new place - a different trail, anywhere away from the stables, Canyon is calmer. Still nervous, sure. But in general he's more calm. Does he decide he has to trust what he can (me) since everything else is strange and new?

On the trail ride around the stables there's an area where it's safe to lope. When his energy goes up, though, his nervousness escalates accordingly. I finally did the right thing on this ride. When he was in the middle of a panicky high headed run I didn't try to stop him. I spoke calmly and brought my energy, my seat and my emotions way down, then gave only a gentle pull on his brakes. And he came back down, albeit not right away.

It was the hardest thing I've ever done.

I found this quote on a site:
The problem with training nervous horses, versus working with an animal that has a bad attitude, is that nervous horses are not attempting to misbehave. They have no real reason for being scared, but they are, which makes the rider’s job much more difficult.

Great. So I'd be better off with a brat than a scaredy cat.

After that high headed run and some calming down time, I spent time on the trail showing Canyon things that normally bother him. The dreaded horse eating rusted farm implement that was off the trail. Ooo that thing is scary. I dismounted and walked over to it and he seemed stunned that I wasn't devoured instantly. I put my hand on it. He stood far away, refusing to take a step. Finally I had to put a carrot on it to get him to touch it with his nose. For the rest of the time he'd touch anything with his nose, hoping for another carrot.

Horses are so shallow. LOL

Sunday we were out again at the Guadalupe State Park and he did great. He walked right up to the deer blind. He turned and faced the dreaded armadillo that squinted at us from a pile of leaves and branches. He had moments, like when he decided he'd better walk around the white pedestrian crossing lines painted on the road.

Which gave me an idea. I'm going to have a session with him in the arena with contrast. Tarps, blankets, things on the ground that contrast with the ground. That really seems to be what worries him consistently. I've had him side step dark patches of ground so quickly I've nearly lost it.

So I'm going to work on leading him through each high contrast spot, first driving from the ground, then from the saddle. Course I'd love to build one of these confidence courses. But that seems like overkill for one horse...

Or maybe not. He's over my bag of scary stuff that I used to desensitize him (a cheerleader with a pom pom is completely safe. We're good with towels and swimming noodles too.). It's time to step it up.

On another note:

One of my gelding for sale ads was still up and I was asked if he was still for sale.

No, I said. I'm keeping him. Even if he's a nervous wreck.