Monday, November 30, 2009

A good question

One Red Horse posed a good question on my last post:
Just wonder, what do you want with your boy?

What do I want? It seemed simple two years ago when this adventure began. I want a horse I can safely trail ride on, either alone or in large groups. That was it.

But these days I've learned so much more, I've added considerably to the list.

I want that pocket pony kind of horse. Lily is not big on affection, Cibolo is big on it.

I want a horse that I can lead. Too alpha a horse and I'm probably not going to be a strong enough leader.

I want a horse without significant holes in its training, because I don't have the skills to fill them.

I want a horse with a generally calm nature. Every horse will spook, but some do so more than others.

I want Cibolo to be this horse. I think we have a connection. But I have to be good to him too. A poor match of horse and rider can set back a horse - I've seen it happen.

This week our trainer is going to evaluate him and see what she thinks. I didn't think he was that green, but maybe I really need an older horse. Or maybe he needs a more skilled rider.

Or maybe I can get there.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Surprise visitor...

Saturday I went for my usual feeding of the horses at our stables. I was still laughing at some posts I read over at 7MSN and thinking how boring my life seems by comparison.

Well, bull.

Let me explain.

It was a gray day, one of those that makes you think the sun was just a figment of your imagination. Usually when I pull up to the barn it's like a scene from a prison movie where all the inmates are rattling their tin cups against the bars demanding food.

I respond by telling everyone to keep their tails on.

This time no one was asking for grain. They where all looking off in the distance.

Well, that weird, I thought, organizing the grain for the usually most demanding horses.

With my first set of feed ready I stepped out and poured the grain in the buckets.

And no one came to inhale it.

So I looked at what had their attention. It was an intruder. A large one.

I tried to remain calm. Surely it was just my imagination.


Eventually the intruder made his way casually toward the barn where I continued to measure and pour grain. He decided to check out the hay.

At this time, I'd like to point out that my grandparents had a farm, not a ranch. Farms are where you grow things that don't walk around with pointy things on their head. The most dangerous thing on the farm were the feral kittens we tried to befriend.

So I don't really know how to approach one of these things. I mean I've watched my share of westerns, but I've also watched some bull fights. Given that, it seems to me these things can go either way.

I tried to call the barn owner, but she was out of town for the holiday. I tried to call the ranch next door, but all the phone numbers on the posted list are out of date. I called other feeders, but no one was around.

It was me and the bull.

Fine. It's just hay.

I let him eat while I finished my chores, hoping every time I heard a truck and ATV that it was someone who had noticed they had misplaced 700 pounds of Chuck.

Or Roger.

Or whatever his name was.

But no one came.

Then it happened. He came in to feast on the alfalfa.

I always think of alfalfa as the creme brulee of feed. Special. Saved for those horses who do something extra or had earned a retirement where alfalfa was a sort of daily gold watch.

No way was this ... interloper with horns... going to eat our horses' alfalfa! I grabbed a manure fork and chased him out of there.

And, much to my surprise, I was not impaled.

He headed over to the house to see if there was anything else of interest, then disappeared completely as if he was just an errant Thanksgiving guest, late, lost, and finally, full.

After all that excitement, riding was almost an afterthought.

Except Lily decided to test me. She started by making as if she was going to bite as I tacked her up. I was so surprised I thought she must have some pain. I took off the saddle and poked and prodded. Nothing. No tender spots. No pain in her back, her neck, nothing.

Then I realized this is what she used to do with her previous owner - who eventually would get intimidated into not riding.

The minute I firmed up, she stopped. We rode out a bit, and to say she was resistent would be an understatement. But I know the worst she'll do is turn. Remembering the 5 minute rule, I corrected consistently and pushed until we got to a point where I felt she was listening consistently and no longer resisting. We stood there for a minute, then returned. A few more turns to remember that we don't trot back to the barn, and we were done.

Then Cibolo. Same thing. A bit resistant. But now I was in boss mare mode, so it went smoothly. We did a little trail riding in our familiar area - because I'm taking my time with him - then into the arena for cantering.

I was trying to use another rein on his halter but it didn't work - in fact I think it just confused him and at one point he went into a series of side steps - or was it a crow hop? - in a canter because of the pull on that set of reins I had foolishly put over the horn. So I dropped those second reins, did some very strict movements, since I wasn't sure if I was getting resistance, fear, confusion, or all three.

We kept it simple. One step forward. One step back. Two steps forward, two back. Side pass. Then off for some cantering. Got what I asked for so I ended on a good note, a little tired from all the things we were working on and my unexpected issues with Lily.

As we walked in from the arena, Cibolo got confused and I was not signaling very well. I turned to him with some exasperation and I heard, in my head, as clearly as any words I've had spoken to me, in a soft tone "I am trying." I was taken aback. Cibolo had his head at my level and his gaze met mine.

I moved in toward him and he dropped his head in my hands. I'm trying, he "said" again.

I know you're trying, I said out loud. I know.

I'm trying too.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The first five minutes

The article in Horse and Rider said that your horse decides in the first 5 minutes of a ride whether or not you're going to be able to keep him safe. If, during those five minutes, your horse tests you and you miss it, then you've signaled you are not the leader of this ride.

The article is on riding solo a barn sour/herd bound horse. And, as all these articles recommend, the advice is ground work.

It's been a long time since I took Cibolo to the round pen. I decided I needed to see where we were.

The answer was ugly. Several times he refused to turn until I really raised the pressure. His gaits were of his choosing initially.

This was a mess. But it was where we were.

I swallowed both my anger and pride and started with firm pressure. Every time he changed gaits without my signal, I turned him. At first he was snorting and getting aggravated. I remained calm and firm.

Turn. Walk. No, not trot. Turn. Walk. Walk. Now trot. No, not canter. Turn. Trot. Good.

After about 15 minutes he was responding as he should. We did some at liberty walking around the round pen.

Then I got on. Same thing again.

The article noted that in those first five minutes, your corrections should be strong and so should your relax signals. So as he went into a trot instead of staying in a walk, I pulled him back seven steps. Turn. Try again.

After a few minutes he settled into listening. So we went for a trail ride. Alone. It was getting darker, so I just went up the hill trails to see where we were.

Several times I caught my own anxiety rising and his, an answering echo. So I firmed up myself and we went on.

At one point he was getting anxious on his own and I was getting irritated. He was getting worse. I was flashing back to what I tried to do in Conception. One rein stop. Easy! Cut it out! Then I realized something.

You need me to relax, don't you?

So I did, but maintained firm aids. Leaders do not freak out, Winter. I took a relaxing breath and gave him clear signals to drop his head. And, slowly, he responded.

I got off at one point, not because it was needed, but just to do so.

And yes, we cantered, once. Just to check the box, to be honest.

There's a trail ride on tap for today. It'll be interesting.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thankful for shoeing, splashes, and wondering

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

It has been so crazy at work I feel like I must be working at the same office as Nuzzling Muzzles!

I haven't been able to do anything, including shopping for Thanksgiving turkey and shoeing the horses.

So I just left for part of the day to get the horses shod - Cibolo lost his shoe on Tuesday and it broke quite a bit of hoof off.

Because my last shoeing bill was so expensive, I asked the farrier if I could meet him and avoid a trip fee. I believe we call this the "tripping over dollars to pick up pennies" approach since I was gone for hours and had to work until 10 pm to get my other work done.

But it was a beautiful day and a day outside on a beautiful fall day holding horses beats a day staring at the computer every time.

Here's Lily, concerned about the grinder. She's doing better about her back feet or Phil has her figured out.

He says Lily has problematic feet. I wish I had written down what he said - I may ask him over the phone because I'd like to post it here. Basically he said they're very small, she has issues with her heels, they tend to be crooked... or something. I kept getting calls and my brain is awash with "dc blitz" and "teller training" and "website blah, blah, blah."

I told him I wasn't sure what I was going to do with Cibolo. He practically offered to buy him on the spot.

Cibolo nuzzled me.

I began to wonder if you're sent the horse you need.

I wondered where we'd be in a few months.

I wondered if I'd look back and regret that I didn't meet the challenge. Or if I'd stay nervous and give up on horses if I couldn't work through this.

I'm glad I'm in no hurry to decide.

There's actually a good article in Horse and Rider that has given me some things to think about and try. But more on that next time.

Right now, I'm just going to relax. And cook like a maniac.

One final thing. Lily's coat has changed a good deal. There's more white than I ever remember seeing.

Here's a close up of her splashes...

Here's how she looked this summer...

Monday, November 23, 2009

On order

When you can't ride, shop. That's my motto.

And since it seems like I can have fun on a horse, I'm committing by buying new tack. :)

Here's what should be arriving sometime after the turkey leftovers are gone (the one in blue)....

And one of these...

And more glucosomine, which based on the price, is part cocaine. Yesh.

(kidding. I'm just kidding!)

What was the last thing (other than food) you bought to stimulate the horsey economy?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Back to the lake...

Today was the trail ride I was trying to get Cibolo ready for. Then we had that incident yesterday and I decided to give myself a break.

I rode Lily.

Lily has had some issues with the trailer, but she loaded right up. Then we went to pick up a friend and her Paso Fino/Arabian, Diego.

Diego does not like trailers.

I load Lily in the back section of the trailer, because she bolts out. (Remember when we went through all kinds of trailer issues?) Well, we're past them, but keeping her in the back works great since she can't work up any steam getting out. And she loads back there just fine.

When I arrived at my friend's to pick her and Diego, I unloaded Lily.

And Diego wouldn't go in.

After some *discussion* we decided he might feel better with Lily in there. So in she goes, demonstrating perfect self loading. I felt like she'd just sung a solo in the school choir.

It took some work, but Diego got in. And we were only an hour late (30 minutes my fault - I forgot my wallet at home and had to circle back).

But no one with horses should be in a hurry, right?

Interestingly at the end of the ride we realized that Diego needed, among other things, the visual of the door closing to jump in. It was as if that was his *real* cue...

So here are more pictures at the lake - just cell phone pictures, unfortunately. It was a beautiful fall day.

This is a mid point on the 3 mile trail along the lake shore. The white in the distance is a large set of time shares.

Anisha on Diego. Lily likes Diego.

A glance of the lake through the fields. Our lake is a Corp of Engineers Lake which means no one is allowed to build along the shore. Which means it stays beautiful.

Davy on Amigo, Kelly on Chico. The two most chilled out trail horses in north america. The don't spook at ANYTHING.

At the end of the trail you see this beautiful view of one of the favorite water skiing coves. Flat water, perfect for those rooster tails.

This sign shows you why this area has nothing built on it. That sign in the tree? It got there thanks to flood waters. Ironically the sign says "For Emergency Use Only."

Lily shines copper metallic in the sun, even though I didn't get to brush her out. Just her inner glow.

A few barns are along the trail, typical Texas hill country barns with flat roofs and stalls facing the lake. Yes, horses like a lake view.

Several streams are flowing these days. Lily decided not to drink, but started pawing immediately. She loves the water.

It was a wonderful ride. Three hours for the 6 mile loop. I was able to completely relax. No worries.

This is what I want.

I know Lily is an extraordinary horse. I picked her for my husband and daughter because she's perfectly reasonable. I won't let anyone ride her without understanding how to use their hands and not pull on her mouth. She trots like a dream.

And at the end I felt a connection with Lily I hadn't felt before. Can't explain it, but generally Lily has been stand offish with me. And at first on the ride if she'd do something I'd get uneasy. But over those six miles I felt better, began using my seat, neck reining, pushing her ever so slightly. We worked together.

The worst thing Lily does when she doesn't want to do something is turn around. By the end, I was able to turn her one more time and get her to relax. And me too. I gave her a scratch in the trailer and for the first time she didn't avoid it. She relaxed like Cibolo does under my touch.

She's my confidence builder.

So where does that leave me? I'm considering a couple things:

Keep Lily for myself, sell Cibolo and get a gaited horse for Adam. Adam has a bad back and really needs a smooth ride (which Lily has). The few times my daughter wants to ride, I can ride the gaited horse.

Ride Lily on trail rides in the near term and continue to work with Cibolo in certain settings with certain people I can rely on to help me train him. Bring in a trainer to work on his two issues (rides with lots of horses and things springing up from under his feet).

Maybe I'm not the rider Cibolo needs for the next few years. Maybe he needs someone who is more confident NOW. Maybe I'd be that person in 6 months.

I don't know. But I'm not going to decide right now. Right now I'm just happy to realize that I do like to go horseback riding.

It is fun.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Two steps forward, one buck back.

Can you tell she really didn't want to go on a trail ride?

New Saddle. Thank you ebay.

Her horse is listening.



Out on the trail at Canyon Lake. Adam in front with our BO, Donna.

My Happier rider.

We borrowed a horse - this is the first time we've been out all together.

We divide up - and off goes Adam and Donna on a little trot time.

Me. Before IT happened.

Beautiful tree break...

The Sorrel Gang.

After here Cibolo got jiggy.
I got him under control.
His foot slid in the mud.
It startled him.
Then he bucked.
I stayed on.
I kept riding.
Turned him, worked him. Got off for a while
where we were trying to do some trail work.
Got back on and rode.

I'm pretty discouraged at this point.

Because I don't think can do bucking. Period.

We rode back. My mood matched the sky.

Still does.

Friday, November 20, 2009

I wanted to ride.

After a pretty rough week, between work and my accident in El Paso (I'm completely fine - all that trotting, no doubt), I had carved out a pocket of time for today.

Then there was this.

and this.

That's us, in the yellow. Sigh.

So I decided to at least visit my horses. Brushing, rubbing and just plain being. When I got to the barn there was a brief parting of the clouds, so much so that I contemplated going on a ride. But it did look only like the briefest of reprieves.

Instead we went on a walk.

Cibolo was at the fence, ready. Actually everyone was, but the gelding melted away while Cibolo waited for me to push the others around.

I've been trying to do the crazy walk with Cibolo that Kate describes. We're not doing it at liberty, but I find that Cibolo seems to follow my lead pretty well. He matches me step for step on backing, moving forward, but is a little slow picking up the trot. We worked on it a bit, then walked through the woods. We trotted through a few places, I pulled up some branches, we plowed through others.

I really do like walking with a well behaved horse - one that leads well, which Cibolo does. It's fun to have this huge dog running with you, skidding to a stop when you stop, backing up if you do, turning on a dime.

We got back to the barn before the rain started again, the blue veiled again by gray. Cibolo backed a step for his cookie and maintained his manners throughout.

It's supposed to be a pretty day tomorrow...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

El Paso and thoughts in between

Going home again is fraught with danger. Memories carefully misplaced can rise to sudden prominence. The roads you drove on disappear under strip malls. Kisses under trees are lost in the wind that cuts through time, leaving only a lingering sense of the promises you made to one another.

I was excited to go to El Paso, mostly to meet with an old friend who recently contacted me after reading my other blog - Crib-Notes. We had, for those ridiculous reasons you have in high school, become estranged. Or maybe it wasn't anything that dramatic. Maybe we just slipped from each other's grasp.

But it's been absolutely soothing to be back in touch. We were the odd chicks of our little farming community. We had wounds we never showed, even to each other. Now as grown women with families and time, we can share like we could have - had we only been wise enough.

Wisdom, for what ever reason, is not generally distributed to 16 year olds. So here we are.

Some of San Elizario seems the same to me. The canal along my grandparent's cotton farm still flows with muddy water, bits of the Rio Grande's desert gold flowing on the steep banks.

The trees my grandfather planted, so spindly and tiny, have gotten huge. They have suffered from a lack of care, my grandfather doted on them so, and even though there weren't very many, we called it the orchard.

The fields are filled with the leavings of the cotton picking harvesters. I remember being shocked at how much was missed, at the clouds of dusty cotton on the ends of the road. We used to jump in the cotton trailer, getting scratched and filthy from all the raw cotton. I grabbed a clump to bring home.

We stopped by the cemetery. It's a very traditional cemetery, the older section with only wooden crosses, the newer section with marble, the Virgen, little fenced off areas, and new plastic flowers. Two other vehicles were there when we arrived in this tiny cemetery, visiting.

The church is as beautiful as I remember it. Here's a brief excerpt from the novel I'm working on that describes it.

Sunlight brightened the curves of the church, adding to the sense of serenity and sensuality, a strange and compelling mix for a catholic church. What may have, at one time, been meant to be austere was revealed by countless painters to be something altogether different.

Apparently the area has become a place for artists to gather. They have opened galleries, have festivals once a month. There is something about this place.

We've talked a long time about selling my grandmother's farm.

I came back and asked my mother to at least not sell our part of it.


The accident

Long story short on this one - I came to a stretch of highway on Monday where there are, apparently, many accidents (there where three on Monday). I think it has to do with the design of the road and the way the sun in the morning will hit you unexpectedly.

Anyway the woman in front of me stopped suddenly, my rental car refused my desperate calls to stop on a dime (or a quarter), then I was hit by another woman.

I felt lousy yesterday, still not so great this morning, but by the afternoon I felt fine. I went to the doctor anyway (since the folks at work went through some effort to set up a clinic I could go to) and after he found two tender areas, pronounced me bruised, but able!

So I'm going to do some more yoga (which helped tremendously) and just thank my guardian angel for working overtime.

I hope the woman I hit is doing ok. She sustained the least damage to her vehicle, but is older and getting hit from behind is tough on the back.

And in a strange way, it may be a good thing that this happened. There have been some... strains in other areas of my world and this has shaken them loose and allowed them to drain away.

In Spanish we say "No hay mal por que bien no venga." Nothing bad happens without something good coming from it.

Threeway on the Freeway

Just a quick note.

Had a car wreck in El Paso.

Am mostly okay, but I'm going to the doc today because I'm sore, have a head ache and feel like I slept on the floor for two days.

It's amazing how complicated things get when you are renting a car, driving for work. I couldn't even see a doctor until today.

Counting my blessings, though.

Maybe I'll see my horse (who suddenly seems much safer) today...

Monday, November 16, 2009

OT: Appliance heaven...

For a year and a half, this was my world. When our dishwasher died a lime coated death, we kept saying we were going to just fix it. I bought parts, tried different fixes, but nothing worked for more than one cycle.

Money was tight and I had a new found sense of frugalty. I can wash dishes by hand, darn it! I don't need a dishwasher!!

Just one problem.

I. Hate. Washing. Dishes.

So, thanks to the greatest accountant in the world getting us a HUGE tax refund, here it is. My favorite non-horse aquisition.

Mr. Westinghouse. Complete with POWERSCOUR.

Isn't he handsome? I love his blue eyes.

I remember in my 20s I was APPALLED that women got excited about appliances. Sigh. I'm sooo old...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

On the runway

Today I'll be on the runway - starting in Austin, landing in El Paso. I'll just be gone for a day doing a taping and a day of seeing what's happened to my home town.

I grew up in El Paso and during high school moved to my grandmother's cotton farm. That's where I finally got my first horse.

I knew nothing about horses, had never ridden anything but a pony on a line, but I'd run full speed on that horse like you not believe. I have a great photo my father took back then, I'll post it later this week.

I'm going to take advantage of having to do this trip and will spend most of today traveling old roads and finding out how they've changed. My new novel is based in El Paso, and I have been away too long to be able to put you there.

I particularly need to see how downtown has changed.

Anyway, this trip meant that I had a very short runway with Cibolo.

Cibolo, reviewing his runway work.

I wanted to work again on our canter. I want to get that take off right. I don't want to trot 3/4 of the way down the runway and canter 5 steps. I mean you'll never get into the sky with that technique...

Ironically a friend at the stables is having a problem at the canter too.

This is Kelly and Davy. They recently added this red roan, Amigo, to their family (having rid themselves of a completely insane, bucking, quarterhorse).

Amigo (formerly Chili) was a trail horse for the longest time. Amigo refuses to canter. Even on a lunge line.

So Kelly brought out her spurs to try. Amigo found them irritating, but still would not canter. My experience with trail mounts is that the operators never canter those horses - not at all. They want them nice and quiet for the city riders.

I imagine after years and years they have little muscle development for cantering. You notice she also uses a tie down - Amigo is often pulling against it.

Any suggestions? I thought she'd have to get him cantering on a lunge line first, but I'm fairly sure she's pushed him pretty hard. She not hesitant about pushing...

Ladies and Gentlemen, prepare for take off...

Here is Cibolo's runway. We trot up and down this road before and after our rides lately. And earlier in the week we worked on cantering.

This time we did much better, but the take off is still slow.

But no head tossing this time. He always puts his ears back when going into the canter, not pinning, but almost as if he's between a pin and a simple turn back. So I'm not sure if he's still giving some resistance or he's listening. I'm going to have someone else look at it and help me read it right.

Most of the time I think he's checking to see if I'm serious. Once I show him that I'm consistent, that I do mean it every time, I hope that will help more than the canter.

We road the trails alone and I really am starting to enjoy our time alone. I need to push past the next boundry - riding past the very familiar trails to the ones a little further out. Slowly, but surely...

The runway home.

See you all in a few days. Stay safe and ride a horse for me. :)