Monday, May 31, 2010

The Accidental Endurance Ride Part 2

Good morning. Where's the Hay?

As I sat around the lamplight, I met the individuals who had come from all over to ride in the heat for 25 and 50 miles. Despite the fact that almost every one was in my age range (late 40s to 50s), I felt like I was the twelve year old suddenly sitting at the grown up table.

They all talked about their horses and who they'd be riding. I talked to a gentleman who got into endurance about 10 years ago after he met a woman who loved to ride and now rides 50 mile rides on his beautiful arab who is 15 years old (or so).

I talked to a mother daughter team who had come out here to do their first ride. And that's where the trouble started. Ann, who is on the board for the Texas Endurance Riders Association, was just a hoot. I'd guess she's in her 50s, short hair, long LQ trailer, and a bigger heart. She talked about how she got into this sport.

"I used to ride cutters, and I had it all down. Girl, my buckles were this big," she said, showing me a dinner sized circle with her hands. She described how she and her daughter got a brochure or magazine on endurance riding and were just laughing at the riders in tights and helmets.

"The first time I came to do a ride, I had my hair done and my make up all on. I figured if I didn't know what I was going to do I was going to look good doing it!" By the end of the ride she said her hair was a wreck, her makeup had melted down to her chest and she was HOOKED.

"So, Winter," she said, smiling at me, "do you have a horse?"

"I sure do - he's right there," I said, pointing to Cibolo, who was blocked from her view by the large live oak. "He's a quarter horse, tends to get a little upset in big herds, so I thought I'd expose him to everything."

"YOU HAVE A HORSE HERE? Oh, you HAVE to RIDE!" she said.

"Well, I..."

She waved off my objections. "You can ride the intro. I'm going to be riding the intro, it's just 15 miles and I'll have my baby. All we're going to do is walk and trot."

"Walk and trot?"

"And there's only, like, 6 people."

The mother and daughter team nodded. "Just six."

Hmm. Walk trot I could handle. And Cibolo would probably do okay with six. And they were all camping within a 25 yard space us, so he was kind of getting to know them...


She leaned in to me. "It's just an intro ride. Very low key."

I took a deep breathe. Sure 15 miles was twice what I had done last week, but Cibolo was sound and I was willing to push myself physically.

"Ok. I'll do it."

And there was much rejoicing.

Later that night in my tent I heard the BO come by. "How are you doing?"

"Freaking out, a little, but excited."

"You'll be fine. He's going to do fine and you are ready for this."

I laughed. "Thanks. I can always walk, right?"

She laughed. "Absolutely."

Late that night the moon lit the hill as I headed down to visit the magic yellow room also known as the portajohn. I didn't need a flashlight, and Cibolo was awake, looking relaxed. Earlier I'd moved around in the tent and he had snorted a bit at the noise. I talked a little and he quieted down again.

As I headed back to sleep I decided I'd still see if they needed volunteers in the morning. After all, I didn't want to let anyone down.

At 6 am I heard the, um, concerns of Cibolo as Amigo got saddled up. Amigo is 6 but he's a very young 6. He acts more like a 4 year old. The BO was having a hard time administering her special mix of electrolytes and Amigo was having none of it - to the point of rearing. I stood by her to help, trying to be a calm spot in the storm.

BO Donna and Amigo, off to the races...

"He gives me a hard time like this," she said, a bit exasperated.

I instantly felt guilty for complaining about the very minor issues I have with my horses on occasion. In fact the ride would end up being a reality check.

I found a Christy, but she was Chris, not Christy and the volunteer coordinator was still not in. I tried to pitch in here and there, but the crew was already in place and hard at it. So, with a little dryness in my throat I asked when I could register for the intro ride.

It was a good hour and a half before registration opened, so I took some pictures. Some of calm horses, some not so much.

Irony: This is the woman who sold me Canyon.
Note she is not riding him. But later we talked
and she said he's doing fine - at home.

The ride coordinator reminded me to bring my horse back up to the front when I registered so he could go through the vet check. It's a good thing I went back for the coggins! No one had asked for it in camp, but now I had to have it to register.

Cibolo and I headed over to register at 8, and I noticed a few more folks there signing up. Four right there.

Okay. Ten riders. That'll be okay.

Cibolo looked on with interest at all the other horses, he'd called out a few times on the way down, but no one seemed to pay any attention to their horses when they did that, so I decided I wouldn't either. He passed his vet check with flying colors. The check included:

  • soundness check (trot out and back)
  • pushing on his gums to check how he refilled
  • heart rate and respiratory check
  • gut sounds check
  • muscle check
  • dehydration test by lifting the skin to see if it would "tent"

We had an hour to tack up and ride. It was a pretty long hour...

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Accidental Endurance Ride Part 1

Part 1: Sunset in Storm Ranch

I'm behind, terribly behind, on updating on Cibolo and my adventures. But what we did on Saturday will take a few days to post about, so I hope you can be a little patient. Plus he has also indicated that he has his own post, which will be up in a few days (he's a hunt and peck typist, and it takes FOREVER).

It all started when my barn owner, Donna, suggested I volunteer for the TERA's Memorial Day Endurance Race. She's very big in endurance ... circles ... or would that be loops?... and has been enthusiastic about me getting involved.

But I've had, you know, ISSUES. Like I had a bucking maniac. Then my horse had a meltdown and practically had me giving up on the entire thing. Then I didn't know how to post. Then I was scared to canter. Then I was cantering, but was killing my horse with the wrong saddle. Then Cibolo coliced.

I'm talking major issues here.

So she was easing me into it. Sort of like a colt in training, I guess.

"Look. See? It's just a blanket. It won't eat you..."


Anyway, we both thought volunteering would give me an opportunity to see what it was about, give me a chance to see how Cibolo would do around a bunch of horses again, since I was really worried about that most of all, get him exposed to more things.

I'm all about exposing him these days. Last Sunday I exposed him to a very steep hill and he handled it very well. Then we had a dead deer surrounded by buzzards. I'm thinking of playing tapes of dressage in his stall to kind of round things out. :)

Anyway, I was very excited to just go camping with my horse. To me that was a HUGE step and I was pumped.

Then things went kablooey at work (we have a huge new workload due to CONGRESS. If you really want to know, you can go here and learn more) and I couldn't begin to cut out and get started packing in the evenings because it was ALL HANDS ON DECK until dark thirty every night.

PLUS it was the last week of school and THAT was exciting because my girl is off to middle school next year and it was just a huge juggernaut of activity with teacher gifts, parties, and just being there when it counts.

Which is to say, I couldn't really be blamed for forgetting my coggins and having to drive back 20 miles to pick it up through memorial day tourists.


Needless to say, while I was shortchanged in terms of time to get ready, I rushed out to the barn an hour late with my tent, sleeping bag and one change of clothes, along with riding gear in case I'd have time to just ride a bit in between obligations. I grabbed what amounted to snacks (because I never think of food unless I have time to hit a grocery store for a specialized "what I can eat out of a cooler" trip) and headed out to pick up my boy.

I had planned to pre pack my trailer the day before but that went out the window (see above). Fortunately I have everything in a few easy to carry boxes - except my coggins, which apparently went for a walk since the clinic. I had to drive home to print new coggins paper work - I <3 global vet, btw. And yes, now I have three copies stashed - one in the trailer, one in the truck and one in my tack box. I may duct tape it to my tack box this time.

We arrived at the Storm Ranch, where Donna had so thoughtfully set up an extra pen for Cibolo and roped off an area for me to part and pitch my tent under a beautiful live oak. I believe I was the only tent camper, everyone else in the entire place had a living quarter rig, or a friend to hang out with who had one. Or they drove in for the morning of.

I'm an old rock climber and hiker, so I was looking forward to what I think of as camping - nylon tent, sleeping bag and an eggcrate mattress. After all, I was just coming to volunteer. It's not like I'd be RIDING or anything... And, as a desert rat, I can sleep in a bit of heat with no problem.

Cibolo was pretty concerned about this camping at first, calling out to the other horses for a few minutes. Apparently they had positive things to say and with his barn buddy close by he settled right in. He dug into his hay and drank some water, and he and his BFF Amigo shot the manure for a few hours as the sun continued it's glorious golden journey behind the trees.

I looked forward to joining the circle around the lamplight, and meeting other riders who'd be braving the trails in the morning. But first, I had to check in with the volunteer coordinator.
The BO took me over to registration and to meet the ride manager, Howard, who explained that the volunteer coordinator Chris, had left for the day, having gotten sick. I could meet her in the morning and find out how I could help then.

The Storm Ranch is 6,000 acres of stunning hill country, as perfect of a setting for a Texas glory ride as I can imagine. I'm partial to the Hill Country, and it's places like this that remind me of what I love about it. One minute you are in thick scrub woods, the next you are on a hill top, watching the world ripple away from you in a million shades of green. White limestone carves it's own thread through the toes of the Live Oaks whose branches twist and turn with the same pattern as their roots do, every inch of their being taking advantage of a God given ability to adapt and a rather stubborn nature.

Both things I'd encounter within myself and my horse the very next day. Because as it turned out I wouldn't volunteer at all. I'd ride.

Cibolo, camp horse extrodinaire.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Boots Review - Ariat Paddock Boots

You may remember the condition of my boots. They have split to the point where you can clearly determine the color of my socks, and as entertaining as that is, it's not that great in the wash rack.

It was time to make a decision. Duct tape or new boots.

Did you know duct tape is not particularly effective on boots?

After getting 5 pounds of sand and rock in my socks, I decided to bite the bullet and buy new boots.

I was reluctant to get western boots. Nothing I could find was under $100 that looked like it would last more than a year. And given the new saddle in my life, I wanted to keep the price low.

But I also don't like work boots or lace ups. I wanted something that didn't feel like a ton of bricks on my feet. Given my last clinic experience, I wanted waterproof too.

So these seemed like a good option. Ariat Ladies Heritage Sport zip Paddock Boot (I found them here at Equestrian Collection, where I got my riding pants - which I absolutely LOVE).

I've been breaking them in, but we went on a beautiful trail ride Sunday (more on that in a different post) and I have to say, I never noticed my boots! They were that comfortable! The tread on the bottom is perfect for my new endurance stirrups.

I also bought some half chaps, but the snap broke and I'll be sending them back. But I'm not sure I need them. Between my riding pants (which don't have knee patches or anything) and these boots, I didn't feel the need for protection on my calves. Plus my Irideon pants, (these in a grey/ blue) with their seam placed to avoid rubbing, the wicking quality of the fabric, and how well they breathe in the heat, they are a great option. They fit a little loose for a medium, though. Better loose than tight, that's for sure.

Speaking of tight fits, I've been hesitant to get riding tights, particularly since I don't think they'd be very flattering. I'm more of a yoga pant girl, tight on the butt, loose on the lower leg. If I get some, they will be these.

But I'll need to sell a few essays first. :)

What do you ride in?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Book Review - Hearts of Horses

During my recent travel, I bought a book.

I'm usually a library person myself, but the schedule has been so intense I haven't been able to get to the library. So I was scouring the airport book store for a book to read. I found one on the way up and one on the way back. I recommend both, but for the sake of horsecentricness, let's focus on the Hearts of Horses.

The setting is America, in the West, during World War I. I'm not usually one for historical novels, but this one was right up my alley. Here's the description from Amazon:

After she leaves home in 1917, 19-year-old Martha Lessen plans to travel from farm to farm in Elwha County, Oregon, breaking horses left behind by owners away fighting. She winds up in small town Shelby, where farmers George and Louise Bliss convince her to stay the winter with them after she domesticates their broncos with soft words and songs instead of lariats and hobbles.

It was fascinating reading, Gloss has done a wonderful job bringing both Martha Lessen alive and the time - balanced between the "wild west" and the mechanization of the world - comes into view fully realized in her descriptions.

I enjoyed catching the details of how she worked with horses, using techniques of gentling most of us are familiar with. Round penning. Sacking out. Ponying. Tieing peacock feathers to manes to desensitize horses to spooky things around their necks (I'm totally trying that). The balance of firmness and patience and above all, concern for the horse, not merely the job to be done.

The community she works in comes alive too, I cried and laughed, and was sorry to see the story end. Always the sign of a great book.

I've finished my copy and don't tend to re-read fiction. If you'd like me to send this your way, let me know in the comments. If there's more than one person, then I'll draw a name.

What are you reading these days?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Back from DC

My long series of work related travel has come to an end, at last.

The final trip was in DC, a place I go usually just once a year.

But lately, in the last 6 months I've been there 3 times. Which is just a reflection of how intense things are at work.

Sometimes, on my twitter feed, is a glimpse of it.

Anyway, DC is an amazing series of contradictions. Where the glory of patriotism meets a cynicism so deep it burns the soul. Where the ernest confront the disbelief and disconnection. Sometimes the good win. Most times they don't so much lose as they are stymied. But the good ones don't give up.

The mustangs even came to DC, I met a group of song writers who were fighting for royalties, and our group - as sincere and passionate as anyone - pressing their case for what we believe in.

New Sculptures in DC. Woman and Dolphin and Basketball.
Yeah. That's what I thought too.

But there are also amazing restaurants. Probably because few people are eating on their own tab, the prices are high. Lobbyists are wooing staffers (the powers behind the thrones), special interests are in town trying to make a difference for what they care about.

The food here is so rich, that you will be
one of these plus size ladies in one week.

And after a long day, we eat. If you go, here are 3 places you must eat, even if you go back and have nothing but mac and cheese for 6 months.

Zatinya - Mediterranin food in a beautiful setting - turkish, greek, lebonese. A first stop, to be sure.

Oceanaire - Pricey, but so incredible that you barely notice, even when you're as frugal as I am. (Okay, I noticed. But it was worth it)

Filomena - In Georgetown and make sure you have dessert.

Look! It's a lobbyist! Many mouths, and more than a little confusing.
Yet flashy.

I will be back in June, but it's more of a colleague meeting. I'm not looking forward to it, but mostly because I just want to stay home and ride my horse.

(Which I did, this weekend. More on that tomorrow.)

Monday, May 17, 2010

OT Crib notes - Asparagus

Asparagus. Signs of greatness.

We recently had a wonderful visit from my niece and her little two and a half year old daughter. I suspect you could find a child more adored and fawned over, but you’d probably have to leave the country, possibly cross the international date line.

My niece is a superior mom, possibly the best one our family has produced. And trust me, that’s saying a lot. Despite my rather middling stature as a mom, most of our family consists of super moms. In fact it’s a little intimidating trying to mother in the shadow of such great moms.

My grandmother managed to run a small business, home cook all the meals, and spoil her lucky grandchildren rotten. My mother dressed right out of a fashion magazine, taught me better grammar than a good number of adults, and spoils her grandchildren rotten. My sister developed her own side business while raising three children and now spoils her granddaughter rotten.

But so far my niece is putting all of us to shame.

Let’s take eating as just one example. I pride myself on feeding my children a few vegetables successfully. My kids will readily eat broccoli. Green beans and edamame are options, as long as there’s butter. I considered this a vast improvement on the iceberg lettuce and occasional sprig of parsley I had when I was a kid.

My niece, on the other hand, has her daughter eating asparagus. Asparagus! Without sauce! I can’t even get my husband to eat asparagus!

And did I mention the brussel sprouts? The kid is not even three and she’s eating brussel sprouts like they were… food or something.

To be fair, I do remember the time period before our first child turned four as a sort of golden veggie time. It was when I had almost total control over the eating environment and food options. Everything my daughter ate was fresh and didn’t come in a box or bag. I was, in my own way, a Veggie Czar.

Now, five years later it’s every kid for herself. In fact on some nights, mustard is our “vegetable.” We’ve become a sort of a food democracy, I guess, complete with butter, white bread, and way too many cookies.

Hopefully my niece can hold on to her Veggie Czar role better than I did. Because while being a great mom is not all about the asparagus, it’s still a darn impressive accomplishment in my book.

BTW: My niece says NEVER steam asparagus. Pan fry them in butter with salt and pepper just until you can stick a fork in them easily. mmmm.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

In the round pen

My favorite place to be with my horse is the round pen.

So with the new information I had from the clinic, I was anxious to work on a signal for a walk.

There are a million instructional videos on how to round pen. I even did a video of a round pen session with Canyon here:

I think there's one brief spot where he actually walks, but other than that, it's all trot and canter.

Signaling for a walk is more complicated than I thought. Too much arm or wrong shoulder and you get a turn. A trot seems to be a place of zoning out for a horse. Like Kathleen said, a horse can trot forever. Control at the walk also means keeping your horse's focus when it is readily distracted. At a walk I found it harder to keep Cibolo's attention.

I began to wonder if "mastering the walk" meant having a connection to your horse when its easiest for the horse to be distracted. At the walk, the horse's mind can much more easily wander. So can yours. The horse has to choose to listen, concentrate harder to focus. It's harder for you too.

It's like when you are working on something tedious, like cross stitch, and you have to discipline yourself to count and take care of each stitch. You can't make big leaps, you have to simply count, and do the simple thing right. Not just right, perfect. So you can't tell the back from the front, done so well there's not a single knot in the entire piece.

Slowly we found the line of energy together, that invisible connection I feel in the round pen with my horse, at the walk and it grew stronger and stronger. Three times around at the walk and then an inside turn. Three times around the other way.

The next challenge was coming back down into the walk from a trot. Again it was difficult to get the signal just right, to find the perfect connection. But in time we had it. The downward transition.

Then, things got freaky. I decided to try to see how subtle I could get. And by the end Cibolo was responding to changes in my energy, tiny changes in my posture.

And together, we found it.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Our new saddle

Cibolo's new saddle (remember?) is just fabulous. Here are a few photos from his modeling session.

Here he is at the trot. You'll notice he has his pink Cavallo boots on. I was going to dye them black, but then I fount out they are actually pink for breast cancer awareness, like the pink ribbon thing. A portion of the proceeds went to breast cancer research. Given that, Cibolo and I agreed they should stay pink.

It's funny, my friend TR was deeply concerned that the saddle wasn't going to fit. No way a gaited tree should fit a registered QH. So he let me borrow some naked trees he got from Dixieland Gaited Saddles.

The fitforms from Dixieland Gaited Saddle - this is their photo, not mine.

When you buy a saddle from them, you can get naked trees to actually try on your horse - you can learn about it here. He was convinced when I tried the fitforms on my horse I'd find that the QH trees would fit better.

I was glad to try them, because I really wanted to see how Lily would do. I was already convinced about gaited tree on Cibolo - after all, I had a trainer, saddle fitter, and a rancher with 40 years of horsemanship under his belt all check it out. I certainly wasn't making my decision based on my 60 minutes of saddle fitting training. But I figure if I was right, this would just confirm it.

The forms are coded just with letters. TR wouldn't tell me which was which, so I wouldn't be predisposed. He had done the same with his horses.

The results - Lily is a standard QH, and doesn't even need a wide QH tree. Cibolo, while one of the QH trees fit a little, you could really see the bridging when he lifted his head. The gaited tree was much better, but not as good as the saddle from National Bridle. They don't use the same exact tree as Dixieland (which uses Steele trees). They have their own exclusive tree. You can learn more about National Bridle here - I'm one happy customer. Cibolo is in their Tennessean tree.

Check it out: the saddle doesn't shift on him at all.

Even at the canter.

That's Lily the background, fretting over her Cavallo boots which she HATES. She'll walk over anything with her feet, and hasn't shown any tender footedness, but if we go to Bandera (as I'm dying to do with Mandy), boots are really needed. I wonder if they might be too small - it's pretty tough to get them on. But once they're on, they look okay. You can see her trying to kick them off here:

Hopefully she'll come around.

Anyway, back to the saddle, you'll see the nice endurance stirrups. Someday I'll ride long enough to give those a work out.

Look mom! No hooves!

Look at his face. He is so much more comfortable.

I think it actually looks better with my red pad, so Cibolo will model that in our next shoot.

How does it ride?

OMG why in the world did I wait this long for a good saddle? Granted, I didn't even know the old ones didn't fit my horse, but now when I think of how it slide around on his back - ack, what a mess. How could I miss it?

This saddle has great cushioning for me too, is light to throw on (although those endurance stirrups are dangerous when you toss them up. I need to learn how to handle those things or I'm going to give my horse a bruise in his side), and makes me feel like I'm a better rider. It's easier to keep my seat.

My only problem is the fenders - they aren't broken in and the stirrups are always out of position. I find myself having to adjust my feet and re-twist them - I imagine on a long ride this will be tough on my knees.I'm storing it with my muck boots set up so they twist them (actually it was a darn clever set up, I should have took a photo. lol), but I need to definitely find a way to speed the process of "turning".

Any suggestions?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Clinic - part 8 of a whole bunch

This is a contraption for walking a dozen dogs at once. It was hysterical.

I'm going to try to wrap up the third day in this final post, because at some point things get pretty repetitive. But you do learn something every day from every horse. We'll start with my day in the saddle.

Me and Cibolo

We put a saddle on Cibolo with the shim pads. It was okay, but the saddle did slide way back. I think Kathleen felt Cibolo was doing well enough and the shimming was good enough for us to get in an hour.

Have I mentioned Cibolo is not crazy about mud? He hates it. But it was, of course, raining, and the round pen was a sopping mess. The minute I put my foot in the stirrup, the rain came down.

First we walked around. Kathleen helped me with two things - my hands and my hips. Contrary to what I'd been told, she suggested that instead of "feathering the reins" when he nosed out (basically pulling on one side and then the other), to just keep the pressure steady, much like the instructions for gaited horse from the day before. In four turns around the round pen the nosing out had largely stopped.

"He's gotten relief from pressure by nosing out before," she said. "So it makes sense he'll keep trying it. You have to build up a different experience."

She asked how I was using my hips. I was moving forward a little with each stride, pushing from the hip/pelvis area. She observed it's a common technique, but she has found that moving the way the horse's hips move - ie, one side up then the other - is actually better. I remember asking about that when I took my first lesson, because it felt more natural, more like what you do when you ride bareback.

My riding was pretty lousy at the trot. The stirrups were too low, I was completely paranoid about coming down on Cibolo's back and whether or not this saddle was even in the right spot anymore, he was not thrilled with the mud, and it all added up to a mess. Still she was able to tell me to work more on my trot, specifically on keeping my hands neutral. Independent of my seat. Part of his nosing out was an attempt to keep me balanced in the seat. Frankly, I was riding so badly, that it's amazing he could trot at all.

And she reminded me to breathe (ironic, I know).

Now I had plenty to work on. And I was looking forward to getting home.

Skoal, the worrier

When Lou came back in with Skoal, she said she finally decided what she wanted to work on. She wanted to get some techniques for doing some of the training from the saddle since they have so little time to work with the horses because of the demands of the dogs.

Now, I'm not skilled or experienced enough to understand exactly what she was asking. It sounded to me like she was asking how to get a better handle on these horses without having to put in the time on the ground. I could be wrong.

But Kathleen seemed to have gotten the same gist. She insisted you had to take the time, had to focus on these horses and give them what they needed to learn - and that meant real training, not catch as you can training.

She said "Often times trainers will get a horse just good enough to get by, but they never really fix anything. They just get it good enough. And then, before you know it you're on the ground because finally good enough wasn't good enough."

There are no short cuts - at least no effective ones.

We're so rushed these days that we rarely take the time to do a job well. We just get by.

She showed Lou a few things to do in the saddle, things like turns on the forehand and the like, but the message was clear. Give the horse the training it needs if you expect it to do the job.

The Big Gray "gets" it.

Arch came in riding John's horse. He's skilled enough to read the horse but, at the same time, to keep his emotions as calm as still waters. He pushed the Gray hard, but without the tension, the Gray didn't quite get as agitated. I asked about the level of pressure, and Kathleen only said that Arch is skilled enough to handle it if the horse were to melt down. Another approach would be to take more time.

There was still quite a bit of dust and confusion, but slowly, slowly, the horse got it. You could see him piece it together, it wasn't a light bulb moment, it was a peeling of an onion. And then, there it was. A side pass to the gate.

Then the other side. Same process.

I never did see John do it on board, but one thing for sure. The Gray got it.

Diego goes home

Diego, the spotted saddle horse that was greener than expected, went home as did his owner. I'd hoped she'd ride another horse there, but I think the emotions of the entire situation were too overwhelming. She decided to keep him, and continue her work with him on the ground.

Other observations

There were a few other things I observed that weren't really tied to any particular horse. But through the entire experience there was only one thing that I found I didn't agree with Kathleen about.

She was describing the atmosphere in the barns that she goes to, in particular the "natural horsemanship" barns. She'll see women, in particular, be very careful and quiet around horses, trying to not spook, and then try to comfort them.

First of all, trying to protect them from things that scare them is crippling that horse. "You're not doing that horse any favors," she said.

I completely agree. Not helping my daughter face her fear of bugs is an example. My mom would rather stomp everything and protect my daughter from bugs to the point of isolation. I would rather teach her what is reasonable to be afraid of and what isn't.

(Except scorpions. I have a thing about scorpions. You can read about a rather hilarious scorpion encounter here.)

Then she talked about the "poor baby" syndrome, of women trying to comfort their recently spooked horses.

"Horses do not comfort one another."

This, I learned when Cibolo was struggling with his colic, is not true. They may not comfort each other after spooks, but they do try to comfort each other.

It was something I observed vividly with Lily, calling out to Cibolo and sending him a very direct and strong connection. He grazed after he touched noses with her.

That was comforting. Calm, supportive energy, active concern. Maybe I was just lucky to witness this moment, maybe I have a magical mare, maybe it doesn't happen all the time. (I wrote about this here, in case you missed the scary colic episode) But there's no question in my mind what I saw was an attempt to comfort another.

All in all, this clinic was an incredible experience. I'm on the lookout for other clinics I might be able to audit. I've ordered a book by Mark Rashid to start to pour over until October.

I have so much work to do I wish I could add hours to every day to do it. But I know there are no short cuts and fewer excuses to do what's right for the horse.

And I'm glad to be learning.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Cool new blog by our dog

Dyno, a young, impressionable puppy.

Our dog Dyno, with the help of my precocious daughter, now has his own blog. Drop by if you get a chance.

Hey Dyno here, today we had the most awesome day. It all started in the afternoon we had got let out into the kennel for the 2nd time today. And once I got out there with Roxie and Bella I noticed a lucky shot at getting cat food... The gate was open.

"Ok Roxie look at that the gate is open now what do you do?" I asked hoping to teach her another lesson on being a real dog.

"Um.. I would think I should stay like a good dog. Is that right?" She replied.

"That's right. You would do that. That's what you're gonna do right?" I asked.

"Yup," She said her head high.

"Good... See ya," I said and jumped the electric wire then raced off.

(Ed. note: This is a true story)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Clinic - part 7 of a whole bunch

Lily really, really hates her new boots.
She's had them on for about 45 minutes here
and she was still trying to kick them off.

Reminder: the report below is from the clinic I attended weeks ago. When you learn so much it takes time to share...

Heads up

The black gaited horse joined us the second day. I'm not sure if he was a fox trotter or TWH, but he was definitely a bit of a "Toyota" - little in terms of brakes, much like the horse I wrote about here. But Kathleen, after seeing him move, wanted to try and see if she could get him to lower her head.

A bit of an aside here: Every time a rider came in on their horse Kathleen would say "Well, what are we working on." All but Lou said "I don't know." But Kathleen wouldn't take that - she insisted each person identify what they wanted to work on. This seems tied into the philosophy over all - you have to know what you want from your horse and then figure out how to clearly communicate it.

Anyway, the woman on the black was older, and very much into the field trial dog thing (which I wrote about here). Her horse, while gaited, wasn't very smooth. His head was high, like most gaited horses I see. I was very interested in hearing how Kathleen was going to work with this, since everyone I know in gaited horses tells me they have to hold their heads up in order to gait.

She began by having the woman get the black into the gait, then hold the reins in a position that required him to hold his head down. The rule was that the horse only had to take three strides and then she was to literally toss her reins on his neck. It was to be not just a release - it was a big, showy release of pressure.

The woman admitted what I felt too - it was hard to see from the saddle every time your horse was doing what you asked for. Often times by the time you see it, you've missed the opportunity to do the release. So Kathleen stood in the center and counted out loud. On three the woman tossed her reins down. Initially it seemed to take a long time for the black to put those three strides together. But in time it was sooner and sooner. Then it was time to go the five strides. By the end of the session, the black was staying in his gait with his head low and looking collected.

"And they say gaited horses can't gait with their heads low," said Kathleen with a smile.

Big Gray Bites

John came back out with his big gray. What's interesting is that John's philosophy with dogs doesn't really carry over with horses. He has, from what I gathered (and you can see a picture of him with big gray here) infinite patience with his dogs. There are no harsh words for dogs, and the result is champions in every sense of the word.

So watching him work with his big gray had the other folks at the clinic a bit chagrined.

The gray was now moving over to an actual gate and to say he was reluctant to get into place would be a terrific understatement. He was at a loss - whether it's because he lives behind an electric fence, or just that this was that foreign to him, he was getting frustrated. So was John. Which may have explained what came next. Kathleen had John move his head over to his stirrup to try to keep him from turning on his forehand. After a good 15 minutes of this, big gray got more than frustrated. He bit the boot in the stirrup.

It was time to give big gray a break and they changed gears. So everyone took a step back and went back to moving one end a time, while near the gate. He eventually went through, but it was clear that his few sidepasses were mostly accidental. He was not, from what we could see, connecting the dots.

But with Arch on board, it would all come together - tomorrow.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Friday, May 7, 2010

Clinic - part 6 of a whole bunch

Gaited horse who learns to bend at the poll

Reminder, this is from the clinic I attended nearly a month ago...

On the second day of the clinic we had the same line up of horses and owners, with the addition of the black gaited horse (pictured above).

Let's start with Skoal, the worrier.

If you remember this post, you'll recall that Skoal was a horse with a good deal of panic in him. His fear extended to the farrier as well.

Kathleen went through the painstaking process of repairing this area of Skoal's experience. During the process she shared the conversation she's had with farriers and vets. One farrier said he was dreading coming out to work with her horses because he'd been told she was a natural horsemanship trainer. In his experience these were the absolute worst horses to shoe. They wouldn't stand, they'd kick, they were down right dangerous.

Of course Kathleen's horses were well behaved, but it got her thinking. She started to talk to farriers and vets about what the "standard" should be. And she became focused on trying to get every horse she worked with to behave at that standard. To stand quietly. To lift gently and lower gently. To be model horses for farriers. She talked to a vet who told her of horses that would pin her in a stall and how frightening it could be. You could tell Kathleen was appalled.

"What are we doing?" she said. "We are putting people in danger and we're not giving these horses a very good shot in the world. We are setting them up for a very bad end."

I thought of the many horses I knew that had significant issues. A horse that rears and has to be sedated to be shod. A horse that can't handle shots. A horse that pulls back so severely that she has pulled out telephone poles.

Somewhere, someone decided that they couldn't be trained through it. And that changed the life and chances of those horses.

For the next hour Skoal went from not being willing to lift his foot at all to lifting his front hoof readily. It took ropes, patience, and precise timing to reward the try. Skoal was not done with this lesson. But he was on his way.

Diego, not ready for riding

Diego, the gaited horse that was so dominant during the round pen session the day before, was saddled and his owner wanted to ride him to assess what he needed.

I missed most of this session because it was right after my session with Cibolo. But what I caught was terrible. If I was disappointed because Cibolo was saddle sore, Diego's owner was crushed by the news she got.

"I see a horse that is on his second or third ride," Kathleen was saying. She stopped short of saying that this horse wasn't well suited to his owner, a relatively green rider. But it was there, clear as if the words had been spoken.

His owner would leave that night, thinking that she'd sell him. "I have three horses I can't ride," she told me miserably. But the next day she decided she'd keep him, do more ground work.

I wish I could say I felt good about that, but I have fairly strong opinions about green on green - green horses and green owners. She'd already gotten a broken ankle. And while any horse can injure you, I think women riders of a certain age should consider a confidence builder - not a challenge suited for a more experienced, younger rider.

But that's just me.

Next: The biting gray, the gaited horse lowers his head

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Clinic - part 5 of a whole bunch

Stay, he told me. You can pet me.

I drove up to the barn the morning of the second day and backed up to my trailer. I decided that I wasn't willing to sit in the rain for another day and not get to work with my horse.

Lou's twin sister, Catherine, walked up. Both sisters have that great English accent that makes you feel like you are in an Emily Dickinson poem.

"Are you leaving?"

"Probably," I said.

"But aren't you going to work with your horse?"

"I don't know," I said, miserably. "He's so saddle sore, Kathleen said we'd 'see' if I could work. I really don't want to sit in the rain and watch. I'm just not that way."

She grinned a bit. That's precisely what she'd been doing - she was going to attend the other half of the clinic and ride. But for now, she was just watching. "I guess I'm just that way. I can watch these things all the time."

I sighed. "If I came here with that in mind, then I'd be all for it. But it's just not what I paid for. I didn't pay to audit. I came because I need help with what I'm doing. If all I'm going to get is that my horse's saddle doesn't fit, then I might as well go home."

Her eyes grew wide. And I knew what that meant. Kathleen was walking behind me, and undoubtedly overheard my entire bratty spiel.

Great. Just great.

I finished hooking up my trailer and unpacked my rain clothes. I'd be up after the first rider - if I was going to be up at all. At least today I'd be dry. I headed back to a quiet place behind a far barn to do some yoga and get rid my crappy mood. Maybe I could avoid sticking my boot further in my mouth.

A few hours later I stepped into the round pen as the rain started. It had been clear up until that moment, something we all noted. I was beginning to feel a bit like Eeyore and his rain cloud. But at least I had my horse. We tried a shim pad on Cibolo and got the new saddle I'd ordered from ebay set on him - it was the least of all three evils I had with me. Cibolo was still tender, but much improved. I was glad to be there, but wasn't sure what I could do.

"Show me what you usually do," Kathleen said.

"Well, I see if I have his attention," I said, showing the few checks I run through with Cibolo. Lowering the head. Backing on a touch. She asked me lunge him on the line. I sent him out at a trot.

"He knows how to do all that," she observed. As he was trotting around she asked "Can you get him to walk?"

I stopped. I wasn't sure. Every round pen session focused on getting up from a walk, not staying in one. I wasn't sure if I even had a signal for a walk.

I took him off the line and we worked for the next hour on the holes in my round penning. I found a walk, it was ugly, but we got there. Most importantly in those rain filled circles I found the critical thing I came for, I felt it as I was sending him around. It was the correct intensity, the way to up the pressure without emotions rising. The steady push. The relentlessness without the irritation. The tougher energy by getting stronger, not darker.

I also found that when footing gets sketchy, Cibolo gets out of balance, almost like he isn't sure how to handle it. The times he's balked seemed to make sense now - they were times when his footing has been different and he's felt insecure. I could see it right there in the sloppy mud. I found myself pushing him throgh those sketchy places, pushing him through to experience it, to get over it.

I found the way to bring him down, all the way down, saw the missing transition.

"Often times people who have come from the training style you have (read: Parelli) can't get their horses to walk."

I laughed. There is something ironic that Parelli doesn't focus on walking. In fact everyone I've heard says that the horse isn't really engaged at a walk or a trot. They want you to get them up in that round pen, then get them to come in to you.

"Master the walk," said Kathleen. "First, master the walk."

I had plenty to work on now. After I put Cibolo back I unhooked my trailer. I'd be staying. And by the end of the day I'd have learned even more.