Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Quote of the Day (or week or whatever)

The Carrot vs the Stick (from Horse and Rider)

Punishment as a training tool "should become obsolete," says clinician John Lyons. "It's unnecessary and counter-productive... When he isn't getting somethign you're trying to teach him, he's already unhappy. Punishing him at this point is backward thinking, and just causes anxiety...

"Think of it another way: If your boss only yelled at you whenever you made a mistake, and never praised you for doing something correctly, pretty soon you wouldn't want to go to work at all.

"It's the same for your horse."

(below excerpted from a conversation at the barn)

Me: Okay, what do YOU think? Frankly after my alpha mare episode, I'm a believer in a little stick - not punishment in the old cowboy sense, but certainly some attitude... If it's all carrots, it just doesn't seem to work...

Canyon (interrupting): Actually you just aren't using enough carrots.

Me: oh give me a break.

Lily: He's absolutely right. More carrots.

Canyon: I'm pretty sure you can get them in bulk.

Lily: And cookies. I'm good with cookies too.

Me: Cut it OUT! Back to the round pen!

Incredible story on Lytha's blog

Go there now and read about her incredible story of her Arabian falling through a bridge in Germany this week - and surviving.


Monday, May 25, 2009

Kids, Horses, and a picture parade

Welcome to my first Picture Parade!

Here's a little of our day on Sunday...

First, we got our horses tacked up...

(HorseS! I'm still so excited to have 2.)

Sierra has really started to feel comfortable working with Lily. Because it's sort of a pain to get to the round pen at our new stables, we're just line lunging in the arena. Both are working well with that, although before we'd hit trails I'd round pen...

Mireya learns how to boss her horse around. Canyon is cooperative about moving his hindquarters. Such a good pony.

Mireya holds Canyon. She's got a whole world of confidence with him. See?

Hmm. I need to tighten that helmet strap.

Sierra has started to trot on Lily. Lily has a beautiful floating trot. It's easy to sit, although Sierra does know how to post.

And yes, I did fix those stirrups. I think they still need to go even higher, and she's riding in tennis shoes because our last trip to the boot store was a bust. My problem is that I don't really know how to deal with the fenders, which are way too long. Any suggtestions?

And I know it looks like I've wrapped Lily in a spider web, but because she's in a tom thumb (which is what she's used to, but I'm not sure about) I've got sierra reining in just a halter. Sierra's still perfecting her release. She tends to keep the brakes on and until she's got that down I don't want her working that bit in Lily's mouth. But I wanted to make sure Lily is still good taking a bit. It was nothing. She's a terrific horse (except for the left rear hoof thing).

Best of all, Sierra is so excited about horses again.

Mireya is too. In fact after this ride she decided she wanted to learn how to untack her horse. She did great.

Sierra got Lily to get right on top of a wood platform. No problem anymore! Even Lily seems to be saying, "hey, I was fine, I thought YOU were going to fall."

Mireya is still happy just with lead line riding. I'd like her to take a camp, but she's a bit velcro these days, and I don't think I could get her to actually break free for it.

See those clouds in the background? Right after we untacked the sky opened up and kicked down a bucket of rain. Which is good, because we really need it.

Look at that belly on my boy. I've got to cut his hay intake. Or better yet, RIDE MORE!!!!

Sigh. It was a great day. Someday we'll have our own place and can do this every morning if we want to...

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Alpha Mare rules the remuda

It's been so long since I've written, it's hard to know where to start.

Since my alpha mare throw down, we haven't had another significant test of my authority in our little herd, but I have to say it's going very well.

Lily has come around, and while issues with raising her back left hoof continue, we are making progress. I'm using both carrot and stick - hard ground work if she doesn't raise her hoof and a cookie immediately following a successful hoof raising. I've had one time where she raised that hoof with no groundwork required, but it's not consistent by a long haul.

But she's not turning her butt to me at all. She's starting to come to me for haltering. She's becoming less worried about cinching and we are taking our sweet time to tighten up.

Canyon seems more confident, but I haven't taken him out alone on the trails again - not because I haven't wanted to, but because time keeps evaporating on me. This last month has been insane with swine flu forced quarantine and a jam packed two weeks as we make up all those activities that we missed.

Apparently we don't cancel around here.

Anyway, I've managed to make it out for quick stops, mostly to test our new ebay saddles - a flextree circle Y for Adam,

and a cordova fabtron for Sierra.

The fit looks good and both were decent bargins. Around here everyone is still charging as if the entire stock market hadn't plunged into 6k.

I noticed as I fitted the saddles that Lily's got an overdeveloped shoulder on one side, I'm making a note to ask the farrier about that. Canyon had the same thing and it's almost gone now that his hoof has grown out.

Speaking of shoes...

We have a new farrier, Phil Notebart, who just moved here from Colorado. He says he did some shoeing in Parelli land... My old farrier said our new barn was too far out for him, the last one was a stretch as it was. So he gave us Phil's number, saying he was new in the area, but really knew his stuff.

Here's Phil.

As you can see, he's on the ... shorter side. I liked his attitude with Lily, he was very patient and they had a good talk before getting started. By the end I thought she was going to take her shoes off and hand them to him.

Here are a few pictures of Lily's hooves, one before and one after her shoeing...

I'd say she was over due, wouldn't you? Course Mrs. Mom and Mikey probably know much better. It's all fingernail to me. For all I know she was just fashionable.

I'm trying to learn about hooves, but honestly I'm just happy to clean them. I can't imagine ever getting to the point of using one of these.

But this, maybe...

I love sparkles produced by serious machinery.

Lily did better with a loose hold. Initially she pulled back, scattering everyone and the cart with all the tools. So we opted for hand holding... That's Adam, jumping into horse ownership. In a month HE'LL be picking her hooves, as soon as I know she won't stomp on him. He doesn't scare easily, but he's got back issues and I don't want her sending him into some horrible back spasm as he scrambles to get out of the way...

Other good news, Canyon and Lily are smitten. But I'll let Canyon tell you about that next time.

And Canyon is over his fear of plastic bags now that I've been giving him carrots out of them. I actually make him take the carrot from on top of a bag. At first he was ... relunctant. Now he's like "What?! It's just a carrot holder. I was NEVER afraid of THOSE."

I'm worried that the next plastic bag he sees on the trail will really make him crazy as he runs over to check it for carrots.

See you soon! I promise!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Quote of the Day (or week or whatever)

Why did this animal that had prospered so in the Colorado desert leave his amiable homeland for Siberia? There is no answer. We know that when the horse negotiated the land bridge... he found on the other end an opportunity for varied development that is one of the bright aspects of animal history. He wandered into France and became the mighty Percheron, and into Arabia, where he developed into a lovely poem of a horse, and into Africa where he became the brilliant zebra, and into Scotland, where he bred selectively to form the massive Clydesdale. He would also journey into Spain, where his very name would become the designation for gentleman, a caballero, a man of the horse. There he would flourish mightily and serve the armies that would conquer much of the known world. ~James Michener

And he would come to Texas and become a pintabian with a penchant for freaking out. ~ Winter

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Wheelchair bound horse gentler...

I was on a plane for the last two days and came across this article on Stanford Addison, an Arapahoe horseman who is confined to a wheel chair and "gentles" horses in a day.

It's beautifully written and very inspiring to me for more than one reason.

Not many folks know, but my father hosts a great deal ceremonies for healing - sweat lodges and long dances, although he is not, by birth, from an Indian tribe.

This Arapahoe man melds horses and spirit. He hosts summer camps with ceremony, with sweat lodges...


Working with horses, for me, is intensely spiritual. It's not that I feel closer to God, per se, I feel more alive. More connected to some core element of myself.

Something about this story linked into that feeling of spiritual connection that I've been a bit relunctant to explore. Maybe because it feels too childish (which is tragic, when I think of it) or naive, or even dangerous. But it's still there, this feeling, waiting to be acknowledged.

For me, working with horses is more than animal training - or rider training. It's not just a ride, it's not just a goal, it's not just a challenge. It's deeper and I don't really understand why it should be. It's a tremendous amount of work, unpredictable, hot, sweaty, and at times a frustrating, irritating, disappointing day. Yet it's like cool water when you don't realize how thirsty you are. A precious gift, simple and satisfying.


I can't imagine a life without horses now. It's changing me, changing how I look at things, bringing me to a contemplative space that's rich with passion and wonder. It's something I won't lose. But I have to find balance with it.

The balance is to not forget to keep my feet on the ground while my heart is in the sky. To be firm and consistent while not letting go of the exhilaration. To be a poet and a wrangler, braiding thought and action together in a sweet grass rope, and using it to rein my horse...

Read the article if you can.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Quote of the day (or week, or whatever)

When you're young and you fall off a horse, you may break something. When you're my age, you splatter. ~Roy Rogers

Roy Rogers Crisis: The Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum in Branson, Missouri, is “on the verge of closing its doors forever,” according to the Victorville Daily Press. The Rogers family cites a lack of winter tourists (and $70,000-a-month operating expenses) as the cause of the crisis, but suggests that contributions could keep the museum afloat until a busy Spring. “Unfortunately, Roy’s generation of fans [is] not out there as much anymore” — at least not in the cold weather.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mine that Bird

I missed the Kentucky Derby, and I can't believe I missed this incredible race. What a story. I love how the announcer didn't even know the name of the horse taking the lead. He was that shocked.

Gotta love it when a rodeo guy ends up training the second greatest upset in Derby history.

You go, Wooley.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Alpha mare throw down

(My favorite post kicking horse butt snack)

I had had it. Done. Finito. Looking into sending my horse to France, if you know what I mean.

This morning I was given a few hours to myself, so I headed over to work our remuda. Two horses qualifies, right?

I decided I'd take Canyon out on a trail ride. Alone.

I know, I know. But he's been doing so well and I figured it was time.

Well, after a rather dramatic start where we were helping in rounding up an escapee, we headed out. No round penning this time.

We got a little ways on the trail and he was giving me his "you've got to be kidding. Riding? By OURSELVES? ARE YOU TRYING TO GET US KILLED?"

I was ready to tell him somebody around here was going to get killed, and it wasn't going to be me. We got about 5 minutes us the trail when he was just a mess. High stepping, looking everywhere, general freak out.

That's when I lost it. I got off and ground worked him with some serious pissed off ness. I cracked him on the butt hard and he was jumping out of the way. You could tell he was surprised, but I didn't care. "MOVE!" I yelled. "NOW!"

He moved and circled faster than ever, suddenly aware that I had my banshee on and therefore a far more immediate threat. The entire time I went on this diatribe about how I was done with his #$%t and was sick and tired of doing all this work so he could just freak out.

We walked (me leading from the ground) down the trail for a minute, my attitude still hot, until I came to the hill the trainer uses to build up hind ends. Perfect. I lead him up and down it once, then got on and had him take me up it about five times. Then we cut back to the barn area, rode in the front in a little side pasture over and over and over. At first he was slightly hesitant, then resigned. At that point I decided to try again.

We went back to the trail. This time we cut through trees, staying "off road" the entire time. I didn't get too far away, just in case.

And he behaved. He stopped balking and high stepping, he went where he was told and in general was like a sort of normal horse.

I had a similar situation with Lily - she's still giving me attitude about her back feet. The minute she misbehaved I grabbed her lead line and stomped her butt out in the parking lot to make her lunge and do a few fast "backs". I stomped back in, secured her and she raised her hoof as nice as can be.

And when I let them back into their areas, there were NO TURNED BUTTS.

This is, of course, very bad for my development as a person. I mean, I was just taught that if I get incredibly bitchy, my horses behave better. It's scary to think of applying this to other areas of my life...


You know, there's something wonderfully freeing about embracing your full alpha mare. It'll be interesting to see where it goes from here.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

HELP! AKA And the butt goes here

Help. My new horse is turning her butt to me in the stall. I know what this means, but I need some advice on how to deal with it.

I'm round penning and it's coming along.

I'm fixing the ground work.

The butt turn comes only when I enter and start to do something she doesn't like. Then I push her hard (mentally and with hand motions) and she gets quite upset, but moves eventually. By upset I mean she seems to act scared.

I kind of wonder if in her week when she was sold to somebody (then returned) if something happened that she has to get over. Or if this is just rust.

But I thought if I had things fixed in the round pen (or better, anyway) she'd be okay in other spots. Does the transfer to other places just take time?

I'm not expecting miracles, but I want to make sure I shouldn't be round penning harder or something.

What do you think?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Miracles in the Round Pen

It's amazing.

This is not the same horse I started with a week ago. That horse couldn't go in a circle if you hitched her to a merry go round.

She ran like her tail was on fire and turned for no reason.

She stopped at the gate, turned her butt (more like side, like she knew her butt to me was really bad manners), never kicked, but certainly was reluctant to listen.

We've had four round penning sessions and she is now:

changing gaits when asked,

turning only when asked,

staying on the rail (after about two loops),

no longer stopping at the tree (where the other horse is standing)

going from trot to canter to trot (the down shift is still a little sticky, but at least it's there)

She is still testing with presenting her 3/4 butt, and taking a LONG time to join up, but I think I'm spoiled with Canyon. He's at least half joined up when he walks in, round penning with him these days is just insuring sincerity. And he never presents his butt, 3/4 or 1/2. lol

Lily, however, is the kind of horse that doesn't fake it. She's on, or she's off. And it takes a long time for her to be on. I think part of the issue is that Canyon is right outside the pen and she still gravitates to the horse - so we aren't just trying to join up, but also break away.

That's okay. This way I know she's really hooked on, even if it takes twice as long.

She's also dropping her head in response to pressure, finally. We got her a nice blue rope training halter and started to work on her dropping her head when I pull down. Initially she'd give after a good three minutes (no kidding). Now she's dropping her head instantly and I've gotten her head down to her knees.

"She's like a different horse," said Sierra today. I think she thought I was crazy if I thought this was a good horse for her. When she saw how nuts she was in the round pen that first time, she got a little worried. I told her then that I needed three weeks.

After a week, I think my estimate was right - if I can keep up the pace. And Sierra is hopeful.

This has been a magical experience for me too. This is the first time I've taken what I've learned and applied it to a different horse. I've never been the type to offer to work other people's horses, people are so ... possessive, and rightly so. So I've been satisfied to be a sponge, soaking up every bit of knowledge I can from everyone I see working their horse.

It's gratifying to not only get a better response from Lily, but to get a sense that she is calming because someone else is in charge. Like it's supposed to be.

She's still giving me a bit of a fit with her back feet. Not as bad as the first time I picked her out, but still...

Tomorrow she gets new shoes and, if she's anything like Canyon, she may get better with her hooves. Something about those natural balance shoes.

She and Canyon seem to be making friends too, and I hope soon they'll be turned out together. Some of the other geldings are running her around a bit. Canyon, in the meantime, is getting run around by an old arabian mare. Maybe if Lily and Canyon were together they'd just graze.

Mustang update
Here's an update on the Madeline Pickens' attempt at saving the Mustangs. Kind of interesting, looks like she's not "adopting" but offering to keep them on land if the gov't pays. Which wasn't the point, really. I'm conflicted, but like most things, I'm sure there's more to the story...

Btw, here's what I told Canyon was the internet in his stall. Don't tell him...

Friday, May 1, 2009

Meet our new horse - Lily

This is Lily. (and Sierra)

Now we have HORSES!

Lily is a horse I have had my eye on ever since our stable owner bought her. She had a kind eye, was fast, but sane.

Since then she's had a foal, gotten a little cinchy and is now pretty rusty from lack of riding. Still, I know this horse. She has almost no spook. She has had western pleasure training. She has a lot of experience doing play dates and barrels. She likes trail riding. She'll be great for Sierra and Adam.

But, boy, is she rusty. That's what having babies does to you, I guess. :)

We round penned her and it was as if she'd never round penned before. I haven't run into that before, so if anyone has any advice, send it on. She keeps turning early and it takes a while to get her into a rythmn. She runs in toward the center of the circle, and is just a wreck. Every now and then she runs in a sort of panic, although I'm working to keep her in a trot. I'm going to video tape her tomorrow and try to see if I can get some ideas on how to approach her.

She also has a bad habit of storming out of the trailer. Goes in fine, comes out like the place is on fire. Then stops and waits patiently. It's wild. Ideas? Help? Please?

Time will bring her around. That much I'm sure of. As long as we're consistent and don't screw up too badly. There's so much to say, but I'm a little worn out - we are in quarantine, sort of and I've stayed up too late again. More next time, I promise!

In the meantime, welcome to the family, Lily.

Swine flu quarantine

(don't come over unless you've got one of these)

Our entire school district canceled classes until May 11th due to swine flu.

You know what that means.... HORSE TIME!

I owe you pictures and blogs on our new horse, but for now, read up about our quarntine: