Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Pale Stranger and Remedials

A tall, pale stranger came to visit me over Christmas. At nearly six feet he stood by the tree, quiet and unassuming.

Why have you come here? I asked him.

He remained quiet, and I had a sense that he felt empty. He looked outside expectantly, as if waiting for a sign of what was needed from him.

For days he was there, watching as we went about our business, watching the glow of the Christmas tree, never asking for egg nog, or a gift of his own. What he was looking for couldn't be wrapped in ribbons or paper. He needed something to fill his aching soul.

So we bolted him in the trailer.

He seems much more comfortable there. Still empty, but with a sense of purpose.

Smokey and I have been doing some remedial work over the holidays. I think of it as a form of boot camp. We are starting with standing still at the trailer.

When I asked Mark Rashid about my dancing pony, he pretty much said to let the horse work it out himself. Yet I was struck by a video where Chris Irwin showed how to teach a horse to reach that Zen like state of being still. In watching his process I could see the gentle discipline of the process. Also I don't have the hours at a clinic to tie my horse for days at a time, periodically reinforcing the experience.

For three days I would tie Smokey to the trailer and would fuss around inside the trailer tack room. If he moved from his spot I would come out and put him back in his spot, squared up. We spent about 20 minutes each time on this, during tacking, untacking, or just hanging out. He moved less and less. Lesson one - about 70% complete.

We are also working on catering in the round pen. I've been nervous about round pen cantering. The round pen at our barn feels small and I've focused only on cantering in the arena. But, with some encouragement, I got to work on it. He's getting more steady at his slow lope, I'm getting better at riding out his transitions, the transitions are improving. Lesson two - about 30%.

Steering is still inconsistent, but improving slowly, slowly, slowly. We trot around the power pole, and by circle 7 we are actually turning. I'd say this needs more intervention. Lesson three - about 10%.

Boot camp will continue when we return from our trip to my Dad's. Maybe the soak will do some good.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Magic of Christmas - Crib Notes

The holidays have arrived in a cloud of garland and pine needles, and it’s been operation Ho, Ho, Ho here at our house. Yes, we’ve had to keep a firm handle on our sense of humor this year.

First we discovered that our kittens can’t read the Advent calendar at all. They have each insisted on opening presents, much to the horror of the diligent wrapper who discovered the crime scene under the tree – three separate times.

The kittens also jump on the counter to try to attack the Christmas cookies, thwarted only by the screams of the holiday bakers who had foolishly stepped away for some eggnog.

The aforementioned kittens have now discovered the value of fresh air and sunshine during cookie cooling hours. And we’ve resorted to hiding the presents. All of them. There have even been a few frightening moments involving the kittens, the Christmas tree, and strands of garland.

Next we discovered that some sort of huge power surge must have killed off our rather expansive light collection last year. When we unpacked our 20 boxes of holiday decorations, dozens of strings had every single light on the string filled with smoky looking bulbs. Given our poor luck with inflatables (you may remember that our snowman and penguin ended up in Kerr County in years past), we are a little wanting in the outdoor decoration department.

Then there was the mantle. This summer we took a rather substantial fallen tree from a friend’s house and fashioned it into a massive mantle for our fireplace. A mantle so massive, our stocking hangers are completely useless. Our stockings remain in a pile, waiting for the hooks (which are on the ever growing holiday honey do list).

Still, we are coasting into the final stretch. Most of the cookies have survived the kitten commandoes. The tree is still vertical and only a few ornaments have been mortally wounded in feline attacks. We managed to toss up a few more lights outside and we found one stocking holder that is working out on the massive mantle.

On Christmas morning we will sit among the unwrapped presents, down the surviving cookies, and play holiday carols all day long. And we’ll probably forget we had to re-wrap presents three times and hide them in the recycle bin and secure our tree to the windowsill. And I bet we won’t even notice that some of our icicle lights are out.

That’s part of the magic of Christmas

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Not a Silent Night

Carols on the Square...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Geek - Crib Notes

From my weekly column -

I am a little over the top when it comes to the holidays.

Oh, we’re not talking about a few too many ornaments on the tree here. This is not about being one of those people who hum a carol or two in the checkout line. This is serious stuff here. I am to the holidays what El Nino is to North American weather patterns. I am the Holiday Himalaya of the Hill Country.

I am a Christmas Geek.

I felt it was time to come out of the Chrismas closet (where there are 7 different types of holiday themed wrapping paper with matching ribbons) about this. We’ve known each other long enough, right? It’s possible you are a little Christmas geeky too…

So how can you tell if you’re a Christmas Geek? Here are some of the signs:

1. You can put your mp3 player on at noon and leave it playing until bedtime and never hear the same version of a Christmas carol twice.

2. You own more holiday movies than they stock at the local movie store.

3. You have strong opinions about how to properly hang tinsel.

4. You organize your caloric intake around egg nog consumption which means you can eat three pecans and a stick of celery a day.

5. When you unpack your holiday decorations you can finally walk through the attic. The living room? Not so much.

6. While you might struggle to remember names of people at a party , you know the name of every version of Papa Noel and know the most commonly mispronounced reindeer is Donder. (Every one leaves out the “d.”)

7. You know the words to the more obscure carols (see #1) and feel free to enlighten others when they resort to humming.

8. You have a dozen Santa hats in various styles.

9. When an ornament breaks you insist on a moment of silence.

10. The cats, dogs, and at least one stuffed animal, have individual, stylish stockings.

If you suffer from one or two of these signs, consider yourself merely festive. If you have three to five of these, then you are pretty darn merry.

If all ten of these apply to you, then I’ll see you at the Carols on the Square. We’ll be the ones in the funny Santa hats, singing at the top of our lungs – without once having to reference the song sheets.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Parading About Town

The Line Up (that's us, on the far left.)

Ever since I re-discovered horses I had one goal. I wanted to be riding my horse in a parade. I’ve been in a couple of parades over time. I was Cinderella for our Library’s float in the San Antonio Battle of Flowers parade (which is the 2nd coolest parade in the world). Given that I am a Hispanic woman with a size 9 shoe, it was a bit of a stretch, but the wig and pink ballgown helped me carry it off.

When we moved out to the Lake I discovered that the greatest parade ever was the holiday parade in our town. It was pretty modest in those days, maybe 20 entries, but I envisioned myself riding in there with the County Posse, my horse decked out in ribbons, me with the perfect parade wave to the crowd.

Then I had the horse I’d as soon ride through a mine field than take to a parade. I contented myself with the fact that my children were living out the dream by riding in various floats themselves.

When we got Lily I thought, you know, that horse could ride in a parade, no problem. I began to have a glimmer of hope. I got to be in the parade last year as a pooper scooper, which was DARN CLOSE to actually riding a horse in the parade.

Which is a long way of saying I really, really, really wanted to ride my horse in this year’s Christmas parade. And this year we did. Sierra and I went to the dress rehearsal to make sure none of the horses would over react to bells, ribbons, antlers and hats. We practiced our line up. I knew precisely what problem we’d have. We’d have the problem we had in South Texas.

My horse doesn’t like to stop in a crowd of horses.

Hello. Smokey here. I wouldn’t have to keep going if we weren’t clearly LOSING.

Smokey. It’s not a race. It’s a parade.

Horses are in front of me. That’s a race. And I can take ‘em if you let me.

You really don’t want to be behind the power truck. It makes noises and has crinkly stuff you don’t like.

Mares only like winners.

Mares like geldings with manners.

Yesh. What would you know? Besides if you’re not lead horse, the view never changes.

You stole that from the mush dog blog, didn’t you?

I’m not saying.

The morning of the parade we went to the barn very early. That’s when I knew it. My horse was not in a good space. You know, when you feel your horse is not connected with you? Where you should really just work on simple stuff because anything more complex is going to be a mess? You know, complex things like being in a PARADE?

I did a fancy mane job as he was eating, realizing that the very action of grooming while he was eating was not good. Maybe this is silly, but I think when I groom a horse while they are eating they get… irritated. Do you feel that? It’s like only low man grooms while upper classman eats. I get the feeling that it erodes the sense of leadership. Maybe I’m wrong…

Sure enough I got my other signal. Smokey hesitated to load but we got him in relatively quickly (The next day he loaded perfectly). We traveled over to the staging site, parked and did a little more practice in the field. Smokey decided the antlers were itchy, so we passed on them since he succeeded in flinging them off his head and into the field. If he did that in the parade we’d probably bean a toddler or something.

We headed to our spot in the line up. We were #19. Here’s where it got really fun. There were 60 entries. We got to ride past #60 through #5 to get to our designated staging for the parade area in the line up. So it was a mini desensitization clinic complete with screaming children, decorated golf carts whizzing by, flapping decorations, a giant snow man, and really loud Christmas music.

For a crabby horse who was NOT IN THE MOOD FOR THIS, Smokey did amazingly well. Stopping wasn’t really an option (which is why we are working on stopping….)

We should have galloped through that stuff. It was crazy.

It wasn’t that bad.

Ha! How about the crinkly stuff that kept moving like upside down grass?

The garland?

Yeah! Clearly dangerous. Probably tastes bad too.

So, anyway, we practiced the move we’d do in the parade. Turn around to burn off some energy. Stop for .5 seconds.

We stopped for AGES.

Riiight. Finally we cleared the gauntlet and hung out, waiting for the parade to start. We stood still but periodically decided to walk around for a while.

I don’t get why we had to wait. I mean, I was ready.

After the confederate air force did it’s roaring low fly over…

I was totally fine with that, I’d like the record to show…

True. You did great. After that, we headed out. We did well, all things considered, and I suspect most people thought I was just doing some fancy footwork. At one point Smokey slipped on the asphalt and finally seemed to get the value of slowing down.

I hated that slipping thing. Why you insist on riding on such surfaces is beyond me.

But all in all, I was very proud of him.

I had the best mane, too.

You sure did.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Patience is not a virtue, it's a requirement

After reading Nuzzling Muzzles' inquiry on GaWaNi's recent injury (I think it was Nuzz, but of course now I can't find the reference), I thought I'd see if I could find one of his books. Unfortunately, I like to read these things in order and the man's first book is a coffee table book.

I don't tend to buy coffee table books, because we don't keep our coffee table clear enough to accommodate them and they are far too expensive for my budget these days. Someday soon, that will change.

So I went to the library. No go. Not many horse books in our little library. But I know something many people don't take advantage of. Inter library loan or ILL. If you live in a small community, it's the best way to find books like this. Major libraries have much larger collections and regularly lend out books to other libraries' patrons.

Here's some info from Wikipedia:
Interlibrary loan, or resource sharing, has two operations: borrowing and lending.
  • A borrowing library sends an owning library a request to borrow, photocopy, or scan materials needed by their patron.
  • The owning library fills the request by sending materials to the borrowing library or supplies a reason why it cannot fill the request.
  • If the item is sent, the borrowing library notifies the patron when the item arrives.
Loan requests between branch libraries in the same local library system are usually filled promptly, while loan requests between library systems may take weeks to complete. However, if an item is rare, fragile, or exceptionally valuable, the owning library is under no obligation to release it for interlibrary loan.

Anyway, I guarantee your local library has this service.

When I got the book I dove in and was struck immediately by several impressions. First of all the photography was beautiful. Secondly, it's kind of weird to encounter modern photos of someone in native dress (I say this as a woman who is 1/4 Yaqui and attends sweat lodges on occasion. but I suppose that's silly since I see people in cowboy hats all the time and never think about it much).

But most importantly, it was as if I was experiencing another dimension of the Mark Rashid clinic.

It's a bit like I finally have the cultural landscape to understand a place - why the doors are that color blue, or why everyone drinks tea instead of coffee. A year ago, I wouldn't have been able to 'get' this book. Now, I can actually absorb what he's teaching.

There are a dozen teachings in this book I could comment on here, but I'll focus on two.

The first, of course, is focus. I experimented with the approach GaWaNi suggests. He talks about your center, or rather the center of you and your horse together when you're riding as a point about six inches down from the horse's wither. He suggests focusing on this point to stop or move your horse.

This is a great deal like the breathing and energy exercises Mark talked about. Yet this description gave me a way to focus my idea of my center onto a single point. Smokey and I rode at my old barn the other day, taking in some arena time to work on cantering and turning and stopping (something Smokey has a hard time with in places where there's lots of excitement going on - like at a parade. more on that another time).

I did as GaWaNi suggested. I imagined that point in "our" body stopping completely and being tied to the ground as firmly as a concrete pillar.

It was very effective. Even when another horse entered the arena and provided some excellent distraction, it worked. But maintaining that level of focus was intense amount of work. It sounds like nothing, so simple, but I had to work very diligently to keep my mind in that place.

Later, when we were walking back from a short ride down the driveway - I go farther with him each time - I did the second exercise. I moved the point in "our" body without a single leg or rein aide. I just imagined, firmly, the point drifting from one side of the driveway to the other. Smokey followed the drifting precisely, at one spot he didn't want to (but look! there's the herd!), but I firmly - with my mind - pushed the point over. He actually stumbled a step, then drifted over.

It was an amazing feeling of connectedness, that feeling you have when you stop over thinking and merely do something with intense focus. You are wholly there, completely in that moment.

The second point was the title of this post. It's nearly the last line in the book, but it's so important I'm thinking of having shirts made with this on it.

When working with horses, patience is not a virtue. It's a requirement.

We were working on our turns in the arena at the canter and I kept this thought in my mind. We got a few turns in but it's still not quite there. Turns while trotting, that's now nearly perfect.

I know I'll work through this with Smokey, but it'll take patience. It seems to me that 90% of what I do with my horse is about being patient while being consistent. A lot like life, I guess.

Focus. Purpose. Patience. My new mantra.

Hope you've been riding...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Second Ever Reindeer Games

When we were at our other barn, we started one fun event - the Reindeer Games. It was just a series of silly holiday themed games on horseback. We held them on Christmas eve eve (the 23rd), and it was fun to get everyone together right before we disappeared into our individual celebrations.

I designed this for the games the first time out,
did a bit of updating for this year.

Then the barn closed, and I was pretty sad about losing the chance to continue many of the traditions we started there. The the barn reopened, but the board was a bit more expensive than our new place and we'd made ourselves at home in our new place.

But I still wander back to visit. Then Sharon said she wanted to do the Reindeer Games again and would I help. We picked a date and it was on!

There was a set of Gypsy Vanners there, and there's nothing quite like the sight of one of these lumbering up to a lope.

Little Bella was running around in our hand walking category.

Diego and his girl. Hot barrel horse. Woo howdy, was he a handful.

My girl. She's so big!

The only team with helmets on. :)

A handful of horse, as I said...

We had the following events:

Barrels - for a warm up

Candy Cane run - two riders go to the opposite sides of the arena, pick up giant candy canes, exchange them in the middle, and run back. Did you know some horses are scared of giant candy canes?

Catalog delivery - Get the mail from the mailbox, then after running back, your team mate puts it back (symbolizing the insane number of catalogs I'm getting)

Tree decorating - Everybody hangs an ornament on the tree at the other end of the arena, one at a time, tag team style.

Jingle bell roll - Using the giant candy canes, roll the giant jingle bell (stacy westfall giant ball) to one end of the arena and two others roll it back.

Smokey and I did pretty well, since we were both participants and event organizers. Having a job to do really helped, and I was reminded of the value of focus.

Lily on the other hand, was a handful. Something is up with that girl. She's feeling better (no more limping with the Adequan on board) but she's acting very odd. She actually tossed a few big crow hops at Sierra. I put her back in her tom thumb bit, which she seems to prefer over the snaffle, but I wonder if something is going on with her. She is beginning to remind me of the palomino mare at the clinic.

I'm giving both horses a massage for Christmas, and perhaps she can help me determine if her last big power float has caused some sort of TMJ? Or maybe something else is bothering Lily.

She's the least spooky horse I know and lately she's reacting to things.

So I know something is up. Pain is the only thing I can think of.

She's tough to bit, she does a good deal of gape mouthing, and she just seems worried so often.


Anyway, it was a ton of fun. Hopefully this will be a lasting holiday tradition for us...

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Tale of Two Coats Part Deaux

Recently we were gifted with a horse blanket. We're pretty excited about the development, because it's sort of like getting a new outfit for your dog.

Yes, we dress our dogs. Cuz otherwise they are NAKED!

Anyway, we are a little out of control with blanketing. The blanket is for Lily. Because this is Smokey's coat:

And this is Lily's coat:

But apparently we are a little overly concerned. If I had a coat on, then my horse got a coat on. Not a good measure, I'm told.

But look at that! Lily has the equivalent of a wind breaker and Smokey is in a down coat!

So I have a question for all you cold weather people. When do you put a blanket on your horse when she can't grow a decent coat? Since we don't live with our horses, we have to plan for late night drops by coming by in the evening and putting on the blanket. So I'm looking for a temperature range (we were working with 30s, but I was told I was over blanketing).

I don't want to wait until she's shivering!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Tale of Two Coats

Smokey with his brother from another mother...

Where, where, where have I been.

In the place where computers go when they are just mad as heck and aren't going to take it any more.

It's nice to be back. Off to check on ya'll to make sure you didn't fall off a horse or something. Then I'll tell you all about the reindeer games.



Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Smokey and Lily, trouble in paradise

Smokey may be encountering the fickle nature of mares, heat, and paddock drama. Here is his perspective on the issue. I tried to talk to Lily, but she was... occupied.

Hello? Hello? Are you getting this down? Yes? Okay, good.

So things were really good, and now.. what? Oh. Okay. I'll start at the beginning, sorta.

At first I was pretty fired up to be in a paddock with a mare. See, when I was with all the geldings, they picked on me pretty bad. I even got a big ol scar on my leg from them.

It's distinguishing, I think.

Then there was all this commotion and I got to move into the paddock with Lily.

Things were great. I mean she had this winking thing, and I'd never even seen a winking thing and all of a sudden I'm letting it fly (if you know what I mean) and it's all crazy and cool, and I'm in love. And I'm thinking she's in love too.

So we set up paddock keeping, hanging out with the long eared short horse. But lately I'm getting the feeling the honeymoon is over. For the last three days Lily's been standing next to the fence with Cibolo and they're all sniffy sniffy and all that. It's so irritating. I mean the guy wears boots on trail rides! Seriously can you believe she'd fall for a gelding like that?

So I chased her around a minute. It was fun!

Then she chased me around a minute. It was not fun! ):(

She was crazy, I tell you! Everyone thinks she's so sweet, but HA! Just try to boss her around when she gets like that.

Fine, I say. You hang out with that red horse. Me and the long ear kid will do our own thing.

Then the other day we went on a trail ride and I decided I'd give her a little nip, you know, cuz it's not like she could do anything about it since she had her girl on her.

See? She thinks she's all that and a bag of alfalfa.

But before I could connect, mom stopped me! She said it's not allowed. That's cuz she doesn't know how mean she's been to me. And I wasn't going to bite her that hard even.

Anyway, I think maybe it's time to give up on mares. Who needs 'em?


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Round pen slide show

It started innocently. I took a few pictures of Sierra on Lily riding bareback in the round pen. Then she took the controls and snapped cell phone shots of our round pen session.

So here it is, the whole silly session, with Smokey full of himself, bucking and tearing around, high snooty headed at times. I picked up the whip to let him know it was time to get serious.

But I was thinking back to a McKnabb round pen session he had with his horse, Stormy on RFD TV. He said "Don't get all worked up about that stuff. Don't take the horse out of him."

Anyway, it was fun. Warning, it's 3 minutes long. And ignore that red patch on my jeans. It's my quirky way of patching pants. :)

Pre Thanksgiving Round Pen Session from Winter Prosapio on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

OT- Kid and rewinding

Here's one from my Crib Notes...

As usual, I blame TV. It’s a convenient target for blame, doesn’t fight back, and everyone else blames it, so I’m in good company.

Because recently our house had been overtaken by the phenomenon of “instant replays.” Honestly, I never have to worry about missing anything in my kids’ lives because they are more than willing to re-enact any minute of their day. Sometimes every moment of the day.

Now, I’ve never been one of those people to watch a movie a dozen times, or re-read a mystery. But these days it’s as if our lives are on TIVO and subject to rewinding at any moment.

Unfortunately there are significant glitches in the rewind and re-enactments around here. Apparently retelling your moments from the day, especially the funny ones, are nearly impossible to do without a complete breakdown in communication.

For example, Sierra and Mireya re-enacted their entire math related drama for me.

Sierra said, “I was asking Mireya…”

At this point she broke down laughing and it took a few minutes to get focused back on the story.

I tried to help. “You were saying that you were asking…” This is always a mistake. That rewinds the whole thing back to the start of the story, which can only be revisited so many times until you beg for release.

“Yes, I was… I was… asking Mireya,” Sierra said, nearly breaking into laughter again. My smile strained at the edges. Sensing she was losing her audience, she sped up. “I asked her, you know, if she had ever dealt with negative numbers…”

“And I said what does dealt mean?!” said Mireya jumping up from her place at the table, no longer able to contain her role as supporting actress. “Because I thought it had to do with farting because they say ‘whoever smelt it, dealt it!’

It took a minute, then we cracked up.

Then they attempted to replay the scene for Dad, barely making it through halfway before breaking down again into laughter. About five minutes later they got through the retelling and by then, it was somewhat anticlimactic. Unphased, they replayed it for each other and giggled about it for a good half hour.

And I’m still not sure Mireya knows what a negative number is or what the word dealt means.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thoughts on Loss

Shilo and Nancy.

My mind has been tangled in the manes and tales of horse who have left us, for whom injury, bad turns, and time have dictated they must move on.

This strange collection of horses, this silly internet herd, a blogging band of snorting, bucking, nickering souls - they are somehow part of all of us these days.

I started this prayer/poem/prose in a comment for one, for Denali, then realized there were many more I wanted to share these feeling with. So, I wrote this for those left behind.

We are here for you,
my distant friend.
We hold your hand in the darkened forest
as you lead your companion one last time.

We tie white feathers into the mane,
to help speed the flight for this final journey.

We stand with you,
at the edge of that forest,
as your companion steps into that open meadow,
surrendering at last the limits of this place,
free now,
finally free.

We walk with you,
along the meadow,
stealing glimpses of your noble, dear one,
running along side on the edge of the horizon,
leaping hills, mountains, cloud banks, and then,
into the golden eye of the sun.

And we stay with you in the silence,
for you are never alone,
and with you,
we remember.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Quote Worth Remembering

Found this reference on Equine ER:

Louise Firouz helped save the Caspian from extinction. Before she died at 74 in 2008 she told Reuters that she had ignored doctors orders to stop riding horses. "I'm not too old to ride," she said. "I'm too old to fall off."

Amen, Louise. Amen.

Monday, November 22, 2010

My Three Legged Horse in the Trailer

My horse. Mine.

Sunday was a big day around here. As of Sunday I own Smokey - final payment made on Cibolo and that went straight to pay off Smokey!

I cajoled Stephanie to a trail ride - but it was pretty gusty so we called Sharon to see if we could ride at her place.

But first we had to get them in the trailer. Smokey was reluctant to load. Really reluctant. Basically if someone stands behind him he'll load right up. So I've got some homework to do this Thanksgiving.

Cibolo had never loaded in the back section of the trailer before, so it took a few tries and a few taps on the rear.

When we got to Sharon's, Smokey started calling to the other horses. Stephanie headed to the arena and we took over the round pen.

Right about then I was pretty glad we were going to do arena work, because my horse was spazzing out. It got worse and worse. I realized I was too soft - unusual with Smokey, usually getting too big is a disaster.

I finally had to bring the rope into the round pen because I couldn't keep his attention. Remembering the run it out rule from the clinic and book, so I sent him around in canters, turning him when he called out. Slowly he hooked up.

Interestingly every time I asked him to stop, even when he was riled up, he stopped. If I called him to me, he'd come right up to me. Not sure what to make of that.

Anyway we began our work session in the arena. Cibolo did really well, and Smokey came around. Soon we were cantering well on the left lead, but he resisted the right. More home work. But I got what I wanted from him in our session - head down, responsive, better steering.

We loaded up for the trip back to the barn, Smokey wouldn't load, then loaded fine with pressure from behind, Cibolo hopped right in.

Then something happened. I don't know when. It's a 30 minute drive to the barn. I took my time, taking turns slowly and going extra slow on the road. I think I just didn't want the day to end.

We parked and got out to undo the horses' trailer ties. I stroked Smokey and reached down, and saw it. Smokey's front left was hung up in his hay bag. He was standing on three legs. I struggled to unhook the hay bag, his pressure was making it difficult to lift it free of the clip. I cursed that I didn't have a knife on me. After getting him to lean forward slightly I was able to free him.

He didn't limp out, never panicked, he just looked for help, standing still. I don't know how long his leg was caught. I don't know if he stood on three legs for the entire drive, or if he just pawed at a stop sign.

All I know is I'd just paid him off and now he almost broke his leg on a hay bag.

Somebody needs a new hay bag.
One that hangs much, much higher.

For my next trick I washed him off and watched as he rolled in manure. So now he's green, muddy, suspicious of hay bags and...


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Smokey in the Round Pen, Lily on Adequan

On Friday our medicine for Lily came in. We rushed out to the barn to give her the first dose. She's been doing better with all the time off, but after a few circles she was still off at the trot.

I've given intramuscular shots before, when Canyon had hives. But I tend to be a little nervous about sticking a needle in the neck of my horse. I like to be holding the lead rope and being emotional supportive.

But it was time to cowgirl up. With a nice big pile of hay at the ready Lily only flinched at the injection but was her usual amazing self. We went to the round pen.

I haven't worked in the round pen with Smokey on the ground in months. But since we couldn't ride (my daughter forgot her boots and I wanted us to work together), I thought it be a good time to check in on our ground work. While we work on ground manners all the time, working at liberty in the round pen gives me a good sense of how in charge I really am.

It was the best round pen session we'd ever had. He turned in to me flawlessly, walking straight up to me when I called him in. All the work we'd done under saddle...

it had translated to the ground. I was stunned. And thrilled.

Then it was Lily's turn. She did well, already much improved, but still a little off.

Sierra and I decided to try a brief trail ride at the lake today. Smokey was a bit sticky loading (something to practice again), but Lily loaded up, clearly excited. We got there late in the day, and both horses where jazzed - Smokey a little worried, Lily ready to go racing around.

But we didn't push it. We went on the lake trail, I got off once to help Smokey get through the ditch (which even Lily refused to do - it's a classic ambush ditch, darn scary for a horse).

We headed to the big open field and worked on circles and serpentines. The work help Smokey focus and we trotted around.

And Lily was sound!

Boy, do we have some trails to ride!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Things I never expected

Coming back to horses as an adult allows you to realize many things you never noticed the first time around. I was generally an introspective child, but I don't remember being quite as swept away by my horse as I am now.

Today I went to the barn alone, determined to work on cantering a bit. No one else was there, so I got to do all the things I don't normally do when I have kids to wrangle or folks to visit with. I breathed in my horse's smell, buried my face in his neck. I lingered here and there, noticing how his coloring has changed over the last week, how deep the black is, how he is, indeed, smokey.

I wondered if they named him after a winter season - he was born in April, so he may have been more golden colored. But who knows. Foals seem to change so dramatically in color you never know what you'll end up with.


After we finished our work in the arena (I did as Shirley suggested and did transitions. We cantered a bit, but I had trouble with circling. We may need a larger arena for that.), he did so well I decided we should hand graze to celebrate. We brought Lily out to join us and walked around for a bit.

It was quiet and I watched my two wonderful horses, carefully picking through dried grass, looking for the perfect blade.

Standing in the quiet reminded me of the list I started on the plane the other day, the list of the things I never expected from adding horses back into my life.

I never expected horses would somehow make me calmer. The sense of calm extends far beyond the barn, when I go home I feel the gentle stillness within, am reminded of how to stop I exhale deeply and we stop, together. Being calm allows me to see potential everywhere, to feel more, to connect effortlessly. It's not to say that horse time can be anything but calm. Lord knows I've had those days. But when it goes right, like it did today, I find the peace I search for in my everyday life.

I never expected horses would place me firmly in the present. It's something I've endeavored to do and only rock climbing got me to that place in the past. When rock climbing became a thing of the past, I found it hard to find something else that could replace the hours and hours of that feeling. Until horses re-entered my life. When I'm alone with my horses I am only in that very moment. Everything fades away - the worries over the past, the fretting over the future, the wondering of what could be, the longing for what was - and we live, wholly, in the only time that really exists - the now.


Enough rambling for one Sunday. This is just two points from a pretty long list, I find I want to contemplate a few of these at a time. Maybe I'll add more in later posts. Maybe just this rumination is enough.

How about you? What have you found on horseback that you didn't expect?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

When horses run

Smokey and I have been hard at work at the barn, trying to put everything we learned at the clinic to work. Over all things have gone well. Generally Smokey is a little rusty the first day we get back to work after a break (with work I can't really get to the barn for 3-4 days) and we have to work hard on steering and keeping his head in the right position. So we do that first each day until we're back on track.

By back on track I mean until we turn well in both directions at the trot without having to do the lift maneuver.

Some days that's 6 circles. Some days it feels like 26.

But going out on our own is getting better and better. We still only ride within the general area of the barn, but there's less balking and "barn diving" (you know, doing hard turns back to the barn). The improvement is very incremental, but discernible.

Then there is the run.

We went to the lake last weekend with B and her new horse - the 4 year old gaited Palomino Buddy that Donna was selling - and with D and her gaited TWH Trigger.

B (who is also our farrier) is no longer threatening to steal Smokey. She's in deep love with her new horse.

However, Smokey and Buddy (who is very alpha) don't get along, and Smokey gives him a wide berth. Until they start running.

Smokey did well on the trail around the lake, not spooking or anything. But when we got to the area where we all tend to do some loping he got... competitive. I couldn't keep him in a solid canter and pretty quick we were in a run, catching up with Buddy who was at the head of the pack.

The run didn't feel out of control, other than it was faster than I wanted to go. I thought I'd probably be able to slow him down if I veered him off to the side because I still had steering. But it was exhilarating, in a way. And, when we came down (and then hung out with Trigger, who is much older and wasn't going to do any more cantering), Smokey did fine. No jigging, no calling out. He ran out one other time at a different spot, again racing to catch up to Buddy.

Only later did I think of one thing I could have done - kept him running and running past the herd. It's like all those times after a party when you think of the things you should have said.

But at least I did ride it out and now I won't be afraid of it.

I know that the issue is simple: I need more practice at the canter. We've only cantered a handful of times. He never raced into a run before.

So we worked on this a little today in the arena. It was messy at the start, but we got better before calling it a day.

So what do you do with a racing horse? I don't think this is a "every time we canter" thing. I think it's just in a herd. How do you get that stop nice and sticky in the canter - or get them to rate down? Lots of transitions?

Advice is welcome and needed!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Clinic Photos - Found at last

Finally I found my pictures - and Lisa, from Laughing Orca Ranch, sent me several (they must have gotten trapped in some sort of internet trap and I missed them earlier. All the good ones are from her in this post). So here's a bunch with semi amusing and/or informative captions.

Mark's horse: Surely we aren't going to stand here all day.

See those reins? They weren't broken in and it
was like riding with chopsticks. So I soaked them
in peanut oil for three days. Now they're soft but
smell like a jar of stale JIF.

Smokey: Yes, I can move sideways without even LOOKING!
Eat your heart out Fred Astaire!

Smokey: Hmm. Is that alfalfa there on the ground?

Me: Good boy, keeping his head down.
Mark: Goofball

You know, my horse and Mark's are the same color. In August.

Me and Val (this time I had my eyes open)

Me and Lisa

K and her gelding and Mark counting the collected strides.

K and her sorrels' apparently underdeveloped hindquarter.

K and her gelding (and that dreaded stereo/static generator)

Mark's horse: We're never moving, are we? How come
all the other horses get to go around? Seriously.

Mark's horse: Do you think he'll notice if I move my hoof just a smidge?

Thanks again to Lisa for these photos (there are several more wonderful ones on her blog) and Val for the ones I used earlier (she posted some to) and for Trail Rider's (I used his in the beginning) and for everyone's tremendous moral support. Thank you for being part of my journey.

Ride on.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Day Four - 3rd day in the saddle part 2

Thanks again to Val and Trail Rider for the photos in this post.

This will be my final post on the clinic - and I'm leaving so much out, I feel terrible about it. But realistically I only have so much time to write and I'd like to start talking about where we are now, 10 days past the clinic.

Couple quick notes - KK asked about my saddle. Crissie checked it and it fits Smokey fine - although it may not in a few months, she said. It's an old big horn barrel saddle, via ebay. Light, sturdy, leather is not exactly in good shape (not even leather CPR made much of a dent). But the tree is solid and it fits.

I sold my other saddle (sob) at the clinic - to Robin. Her 45 pound roping saddle was hard on her older mare. She moved out much better with mine. Not knowing if it would ever fit Smokey, I couldn't justify keeping it and was relieved to find someone it could make happy. Not to mention that when Robin lifted it, she couldn't believe how light it was and nearly threw it over her horse completely.

Robin is on the right in this photo, and she's in the saddle in this picture.

Smokey and I discussed the options for our last day. To be honest I really didn't have another idea. I'd ask about collection.

I decided to ask largely because of something Mark said to K about her sorrel gelding. He noted that the gelding had underdeveloped hindquarters and riding more collected would help him use his body more effectively.

What could I do, or should I do, to ensure that this didn't happen with Smokey? Mark, gratefully, kept it simple. "Decide where you want his head and keep it there."

"Won't I be in his mouth all the time?" I asked.

"Isn't he in your hands?" her responded.

"Well, it's both, isn't it?"

Mark explained that I have to set the parameters and as long as I was fair and consistent - where he would find relief in carrying his head correctly, then he'd learn to use his body well.

So we got started. I was back to staring at my horse's ears, and quite quickly he was dropping his head and keeping it in the right place at the walk.

We headed out to practice under Crissie's watchful eye (she'd also helped us with standing still when I got in the saddle and our stops).

Pretty soon we were solid at the walk. So we stepped it up to the trot.

All of this was done with reins. Maybe because that's all Mark feels newbies can handle, maybe because he keeps things simple.

By the time we came back up to show Mark, we were cookin'.

The only thing we hadn't worked on at the clinic was cantering, but we'd come so far, it was time to take a collected victory lap and call it done.

So we did. At a trot.

We've had our adventures back home, where Smokey wasn't sure if all that stuff just applied in New Mexico. That first day riding at home we rode into the bushes. But that was the last of it. Smokey get's that this is the new normal. We're back to turning - as requested.

We still have a good bit of work to do to cement the clinic world although most everything is at the place it was when we left (after just a bit of regression).

Mainly we've got some speed issues at the canter - which turned into a gallop today ( more on that later, I'll be looking for advice).

But I'm not worried. I see our work coming together, our understanding growing and my ability to handle what gets thrown in the mix better than ever. I'm becoming the leader that's needed for this horse. I can breathe from my belly, ride with intention, feel my horse and, on occassion, stop with a mere thought.


If you get an opportunity, see Mark in action. Ride one of his clinics. Read any of his books (I have his latest Whole Heart, Whole Horse and got it signed by the clinic participants - it's great). He's not just an amzaing horseman - he's a great teacher, solid guitar player, and someone you'll be glad to share some time with.

(Auditors were invited to demos and dinner, by the way - pretty cool.)