Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Crib notes - Lavendar Ladies

Shopping is always better when you're in taffeta.

Saturday (two weeks ago) was the day of the big ballet recital, one of the most important and eagerly anticipated events in our house.

When Mireya got her fancy schmancy outfit for her part in the Lavender Ladies part of the recital, she nearly came apart when I told her she couldn’t wear it outside a climate controlled area where there were no sharp objects, including the cat. It hung in its bag in the closet for ages, torturing her every day.

There was a brief reprieve for picture day, when the dress came out of the bag. We smoothed out her unruly curls, got out Mommy’s make up, wore the really red lipstick and, before a ruffle could get caught on a door knob, snapped a picture, and the dress went back in its bag and into the closet.

I’m pretty impressed she didn’t actually implode from the weeks of anticipation.

Finally the day arrived, and the recital was a great success. It’s interesting, some sort of magic seems to come over ballerinas when they hit the grand old age of seven. and there seems to be actual dancing involved. When Mireya was five years old the title of the class was “creative movement,” a title clearly meant to manage parent’s expectations.

Back then, our little ballerina (to use the term loosely) plucked a flower from a stage rose bush and got from point A to point B with a little bit of tip toeing and only one wave to the audience.

At the time we cried as if she’d danced the lead in Swan Lake.

This time the Lavender Ladies were a sight to behold, dancing their routine flawlessly, as far as we could tell. Again, we cried. Afterwards Mireya accepted her post performance roses from Daddy graciously. Then she turned to me.

“Now can I wear it outside?” she asked.

“Absolutely. You can wear it every day, if you want,” I said.

Which is why we went to an early dinner with a ballerina and a Lavender Lady was in the produce aisle at the grocery store, demonstrating first position when requested.

So, if you happen to spot a Lavender Lady in full regalia on a trampoline, at the gas station, or in the toy aisle, you’ll know why.

And feel free to ask to see her first position. Or even second. It’s a sight to behold.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Finding our way in the rain

I went to the barn on my own this evening, just in time for someone up above to knock over a bucket and dump an inch of rain.

But I'm not scared of rain. After my clinic experience I have the gear to deal with rain. Me and rain, we have a thing now. It says "can you handle it?" and I say "pour it on!"

Besides, in my life I have to ride when I have time, not when the Chamber of Commerce weather hits.

I pulled Cibolo away from his herd just prior to the downpour, and he came with me with all the enthusiasm of a sullen teen. I wonder when we'll get back to the place where he's semi enthused to see me. It makes me sad that we still aren't there.

When the deluge started he began to get worried - the rain was ridiculously loud on the roof of the barn. Getting dressed in my gear he was briefly curious and gave a a good sniff over. I wonder if he recognized the gear from our clinic, or if it was just interesting the way the nylon sounded.

When we walked out in the rain, he was a mess. You'd think he'd never stood in the rain before. "You live OUTSIDE, you nutcase."

He tucked his head in and his ears pointed back. He danced around on the lead line like he never has before (he usually has impeccable ground manners). He was completely mentally disconnected from me.

So we walked out to the round pen. We had the longest session we've had there in ages. Took me forever to get him to listen to me. I think part of it was the rain, part was what was unwound from the ranch ride. But, after a good 20 minutes we were doing okay. Not perfect, but at least he was listening, dropping to a walk, then going in a trot.

Still I had a feeling he wasn't quite there. Sure enough when I went to bit him, he refused. So I took off the reins and sent him out, this time at a full gallop. Then, there it was. A crow hopping bucky thing. A horsey raspberry, as it were.

So we did some quick turns. It really seems like I have to go to this place with him sometimes. Not with anger, but really, really firm. Turn, then turn again.

I thought of the time Kathlyn was working with the gaited horse that was so rude to his rider. She would occasionally really up the pressure on the horse during ground work. Somehow, though it seemed angry if you looked at just the motions, it was just an intense energy. That horse needed that to "get" it, for some reason.

I think Cibolo has this part of his personality too. It's not a huge part of his personality, but it's there. I slowed him down, got him to go into each gait, then stopped. Then we bitted up easily.

I wonder if I should have gotten into high gear immediately, but I really think we had to work through his weird rain anxiety first. If I had gone all out immediately, I think he would have injured himself. That was my gut, anyway. We had to open the doors to the church before we could have the come to Jesus part of our program.

After that I was confident he was with me all the way and we did a few trot runs in the round pen to make sure I had my balance and he did too. Then we went on a great trail ride around the barn. No issues.

So I'll take his ad off craigslist. (JUST KIDDING! LOL)

Seriously, though, I think this is what I will be working on in October. I want to find the partnership with this horse. I want to understand where I'm getting too soft that I can't see, that I'm missing. I need to be more consistent so he doesn't feel the need to take over. I get the sense that he's looking for something that I'm not giving him consistently. I would like to get our relatioship back on the right track, but can't figure out what's making it jump the rails.

Hopefully I can make my own discoveries along this path...

(Okay, quick diversion - go check out the blog by a dog here, and you can get a picture of our new kittens! Yes! We are crazy! and please leave a comment... It'll make my kid's day.)

BTW, someone asked about my Cavallos. I have to say, I've been nothing but pleased with these boots. They stay on - even in thick mud and water at the endurance ride - where easy boots were falling off all over. They are easy to put on and take off. They do a great job protecting his feet - Cibolo seems happy to put them on. I'd say they are tough to clean with all the velcro, but that's the only down side. I imagine I'll need a new pair every year - it's so rocky out here, I doubt I'd ever feel completely comfortable riding him barefoot over some of the terrain.

And things were going so well

What would Pokey do?

Cibolo and I had a really lousy trail ride the other day. I partially blame myself. I didn't listen to the voice inside that said "you are too tired to do this."

We have a great deal of stress, had gotten some bad news, and lost a big battle (as an industry) at work. Everything seemed to be pressing down hard. I wanted to see my horses, but truly was too tired.

So I decided I'd just go and at least lay hands on them.

When I got there the barn owner said "we can ride on the ranch!"

We never get to ride on the ranch next door (with over 600 acres), so I felt like it was something I really needed to take advantage of. Even if it would be nearly a 2 hour ride.

But I hadn't seen my horse in a week. I had no time for even the most basic ground work. We were riding with a teenager who rides a hot, hoppy OTTB, who she loves to canter over rocks and such. Right away I found that I kept missing my horse's signals. Signals that he was taking charge. And by the time I did catch on, it was too late. I missed that 5 minute window.

At one point he gave me one little buck, which I found darn discouraging. I rode through it, but I was really, really ticked. I really don't want a horse that'll buck, even if I AM tired. Who the heck was this horse?

And my foot hurt from all the trotting.

And I was still tired.

I learned what the term "ride my ride" means.

And I know now that I need to listen to myself. When I'm too tired, I'm too tired.

Yesterday I took a pass on riding yet again with the teenager on the ranch. Instead we worked in the round pen, I got my horse reconnected, and worked on my bareback riding for a bit. Slowly the trotting is coming along. I almost felt competent for 3 steps! I'm committed to working on it this week.

There's lots of news around here, and it'll take a few days to tell it all. Part of it you can read here, from our dog. I'll try to catch up, I've sure missed everyone!

You wouldn't buck on me, would ya, Pokey?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Trails and Trailer Loading Progress

Cibolo, trailer loading horsey work in progress

Sunday Cibolo and I went on another trail ride at my old barn. Driving back to that place, with the beautiful fields and nice wash rack area (at my current barn it’s a bit of a difficult proposition to wash off your horse) and the gravel filled arena, was bittersweet.

There’s a great deal I miss about that place – for one, it’s a place the kids love to go because they love Sharon so much. There are no big dogs around to scare Mireya (who has a distrust of all dogs other than ours) like there are at our current barn. I can’t even get her to come to the barn with me anymore.

And those big, beautiful pastures. I can just see my horses running through them daily.
Yes, it’s tempting to move back. But not practical.

It is nice to visit, though.

(If you are sick to death of reading about my tiny strides with trailer loading, skip to the next Cibolo photo...)

Cibolo and I had a trailer breakthough. I followed Kate’s guidance and thought of how I could replace the rock suggestion she made.

If you missed it in the comments, Kate explained how when she was at a clinic with Mark they worked on trailer loading. Mark would keep the horse’s feet moving by throwing little rocks at the horse’s feet at the precise time the horse froze in space, like Cibolo is doing.

One problem. 90% of the time, I’m alone. 5% of the time my daughter is with me and her accuracy with thrown objects is such that I’d probably come back with gravel in my hair.

I decided to take my riding crop in. I didn’t want to use the carrot stick because it’s large and obvious. I know it might sound silly, but not using it is how I’m conveying that we are doing this the partnership way.

As we prepared to go on our trail ride, Cibolo did his rope test. It’s getting better, this time he only pulled for 4 seconds. He’s a rope tester by nature, I think one must have broken on him and he has untied himself before. I don’t know that he’ll ever let go of that one. After a moment he stepped in the trailer and I moved the divider. He backed out. But then he put himself right back in!


This time when he stopped, I tapped him gently and he moved into position. It was like a light bulb went off. Still not all the way forward, but very nearly there.


He doesn’t like that scrunched up feeling, so the last step is still a challenge. But coming home we had the same relatively easy load.

I’d say we are 90% at this point. Friday we were probably at 70%.

Tapping didn’t quite get that last step. But I’m pleased. I’d love to get this all done in one session, but given that I’m on my own, I think I’m going to call it successful so far:

  • Now my horse gets in the trailer without worrying.
  • Now my horse steps to the side without backing out.
  • Now my horse looks relaxed and willing during loading.

(Now if I can just get his butt in one more step!)

On the trail Sunday Cibolo showed that he’s just a fantastic trail horse.

At one point he got caught in some slick wire and simply stepped out of it. He was willing to go anywhere and do anything. My foot only bothered me in one trot – I think the padding on the stirrups really work well to protect my weird little bone.

Sooo, I think we’re ready to experiment with some of the trail obstacles that Lisa described. I don’t know that I’m interested in a Competitive Trail Ride, mostly because I can’t spare the time these days and am saving up my mommy time off for another endurance ride in the fall.

I'm back in DC. Mireya had a total melt down and I promised her I won't be going out of town without her anymore - a good bet since our budget has been nailed by all this activity we've had lately.

But here's my companion on this trip. Remember this guy? :)

We waited forever at baggage claim.

Hope you are well and riding (or hugging) horses!

Prayers, please

Please visit Carmon's blog and send her your prayers. She needs it.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Imagine a horse and hours of clicker training

We went to an exhibition at Imagine a Horse. I've seen a video of the work they do with horses, and it was fun to see them doing all this work in person.

I appreciate that Allen came to horses late in life, and didn't get started with this level of training until he was in his 40s.

Now look at what he can accomplish:

One horse moving the ball with such control that he can roll it between two other horses that stand still for it. He says they like playing with the ball so much that they don't even need a cookie reward.

When he demonstrated this trick for the pre-med/vet students, they said that they didn't think that horses could do this kind of thing - roll a ball in a certain direction because it required a level of anticipatory thinking they didn't think they were capable of.

Allen makes no assumptions about what their minds can do.

They learn sitting this way as foals.

What's really remarkable is what I can't capture in a photo - he gives them such complex things to do - one horse will trot a figure eight between two horses who are both turning on their little pedestals.

One of the horses even did a trick on his own. He showed one horse putting a ball in a bucket, then as he was talking to the crowd the bay went to the bucket, removed the ball, put it on the ground, then worked to get it back in the bucket. Allen says the horses will do this, make up their own tricks or try to take over the spotlight.

Taking a bow. They have great training videos and do exhibitions all over. You can find out more on their website.

Now I'm off to not follow doctor's orders for a few hours. :)

Friday, June 18, 2010

Riding bareback, old trails and that darn trailer loading thing

My terrible posture at the endurance ride - I was trying to stop for the photographer (which explains my feet being at his shoulder and my slump). But I still bought a coffee cup with this on it.

I think I'll take the last one first. Trailer loading.

Cibolo and I worked on this today. We're sorta stuck. He gets in, but not far enough. When someone is at the window it seems like it helps - at least it did on our way home from Sunday's day on the trails. (more on that in a minute).

I guess if I'm measuring progress in millimeters, we are progressing. He got in. He stayed in. He's still fretting over the divider.

But he just. Won't. Move. In.

Now I'm putting pressure on the back end. I try to remember to be the post. Keep the pressure on.

Don't get me wrong, if I have to load him, I can. It's forceful and direct. But I keep feeling like I can fix this with this approach. But to be honest, I'm fighting off that old thinking. That "he's disrespecting me" thing.

I know when this horse blows me off. I can read it. I know when I have to regain his focus.It happened today, the flies were pestering him, he was miserable and he wouldn't listen. I got his attention quick because he was encrouching on my safe space unconsciously. I raised my intensity and he woke up.

This doesn't feel like that. It really feels like something else is going on.

Either that, or I'm being snowed. But so far everything I learned at that clinic has been dead on. So I'm going to keep trying.


I headed out to the barn today. Life is a little stressful and I needed my therapists, Cibolo and Lily.

I hobbled out and got Cibolo. This healing boot is not so great for paddocks. Luckily his resistance was minor and even that poor attitude really about the flies. They have gone into overdrive.

I grabbed my bareback pad and rode in the round pen for a good 30 minutes. I want to learn to trot well on bareback. Cibolo did well standing next to the railing (we have been working on standing next to things so I can mount), and was a good partner as I struggled to find my bareback seat. It was not pretty. Hopefully it'll improve or at least no one will witness it. And my dismount works fine - I land on my left foot. Voila! Pain free!

Then we did the trailer thang (see above). Then it was hay for my horselets and fly spray. I doused Cibolo and Lily with fly spray and organized a little.


Last Sunday, before I discovered that I was broken, we went on a trail ride at our old barn. Just driving up to the place brought back so many memories. The kids would like me to move the horses back there, but I really am happy where we are. It's a shmidge closer, and the trails through the neighborhood are great, my husband gets along well with everyone there, the drama factor is low.

But I miss the lights, the big arena and the long trails. I miss the nice stalls and pens, the lack of hot wire.

Cibolo rode like a champ, spooking only at a vine on the side of the trail. Must have looked carnivorous.

I hope for another ride on Sunday, we shall see...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

My Stress Fracture

Well, I guess it's my turn.

For about a month and a half, the ball of my foot has been bothering me. It had been getting worse slowly, but I've been so busy I had no time to get it checked.

And it wasn't *that* bad.

I thought.

After the endurance fun ride where Cibolo and I got kicked on the bottom of my stirrup on that side, it started to hurt worse and worse. So I decided that I was going to have to just ignore the 5 million things I needed to get done at work and get this checked out along with a few other things, like some blood work since I'm a woman of a ... certain age.

I found out that my vitamin D level was very low and have been put immediately on a high dosage of Vitamin D (did you know Vitamin D is actually a hormone? It's sort of confusing, so let's not go there). Of course, low vitamin D is not a good thing for bone density.

And over at the podiatrist I walked in hoping for the equivalent of a stone bruise. After doing a few excruciating tests, one of which involved a tuning fork (my foot is a C-Sharp), he determined I have a stress fracture of my sesamoid:

What kind of name is that for a bone? Sounds like seeds on top of organic muffins! I didn't even *know* I had one of these weird little bones. And I was good with that. I really prefer to think the whole system works with the help of leprechauns and duct tape.

I don't really know why I even got this "stress fracture," I'm not a runner or anything. I don't know if my accident back in November could have gotten it started, but I doubt it. Surely it would have manifested sooner.

I'm probably just ... a woman of a certain age.


So now I'm in a lovely "boot" for 8 weeks. And I'm pretty sure it won't fit in my stirrups, even though they are pretty wide.

Of course I had to explain to the doctor that there was no way I wasn't going to ride my horse for 8 weeks.

He gave me one of those pained expressions they teach them in the first year of medical school. Then we discussed how I could adjust my riding to minimize the impact. Cut down on the use of stirrups. Maybe pad my boots to protect my little sesamoidiacness. And of course, this will be a great time for me to work on my bareback skills.

But I'm not exactly sure how I'm going to handle my feeding duties. I can't exactly head out there in the muck...

Ah well.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Last week of school Sumer Exodus

I've been a little behind on posting my crib notes here, but here's one from 3 weeks ago...

The start of summer is not very subtle at our house. It’s like a fire alarm, launch of the space shuttle, and elephant stampede all rolled into the last week of school.

Of course the last week of school is the best week of school. Every eye in the place is on the exit, and I do mean EVERY eye. The very door everyone bounded in with so much excitement nine months ago beckons again, this time swinging out into the great world. I predict more than a few kids and teachers will hit that door at a dead run.

Where did the time go? Every kid I see climbing into cars at drive ups is taller, their face has changed, they’ve outgrown at least two pairs of shoes. They are filled with almost-Summer energy, enough to power our entire town for weeks.

And it’s not over quite yet. Our to-do list is extra long and we’re scrambling to get everything done – to finish paperwork, buy party supplies, get phone numbers for friends that we swear we’ll see over the Summer. There’s a designated water day for second grade for which Mireya is PUMPED, mostly because she’ll get to take a change of clothes.

And speaking of water, the waterfall of saved up school projects has started to come in the door – the pictures from art class, the notebooks filled with work, the smiling faces or the hand written “try harder” at the top of worksheets. I’ve cleaned off the counters in anticipation.

It’s also a little sad this time around. This is the last year for elementary school for Sierra, despite my pleas to the principal that they work in one more year. She’s off to middle school, where the world will be just that much bigger and more complex.

For the first time little sister Mireya will be on her own, without big sister’s big shadow at school.

But now’s not the time to worry over changes that are months away. Now’s the time to get ready for the grand exodus.

We’ve already tested the neighborhood pool, made our list for necessary summer survival gear (which includes new beach towels, noodles, and a really huge inflatable ball), stayed up late on one school night in complete violation of Mommy’s rules, and even started eating ice cream every night.

Yes, chaos is reigning at the Prosapio house. A sure sign of a great summer ahead.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Lily limps, trailer loading work continues

This morning after feeding horses, Sierra and I took Cibolo and Lily out briefly. We were just walking, but about 45 minutes it was clear Lily was feeling bad. We ended up walking back, stopping for hand grazing.

I'll be calling the farrier, but I believe it's just time for another injection for Lily. It's been 10 months, and I imagine the effects have been wearing off for some time.

Then we went to trailer loading class for Cibolo. Now he'll get in pretty well, but won't quite get in place for the divider. I haven't been able to work consistently, so I am determined to wait it out for a while. We've really only had 3 sessions and they've been spaced out over 3 weeks. Certainly not ideal training schedule.

I'm going to stay on this track for a few more sessions to see if I can get this where it needs to be. If we stay stuck, then I'll have to consider what I need to change...

Then, once Cibolo was in, we decided to load Lily, just for fun. She's been loading great.

But then SHE started to have issues. She'd get in and then hop right out. So we spent 10 minutes until she would at least stand in place - we opted not to go for closing the door because we were supposed to be done... Plus I knew she wasn't feeling well, which doesn't seem like a good time to work on training.

It's situations like this that make me wish I lived with my horses. I believe (falsely, maybe) that if they were just HERE I could work on something like this 2 x a day for 4 days running. Then we could really get it done. Instead I'm trying to squeeze things in between a brutal work schedule, the demands of motherhood and wifedom, and various domestic duties for which I am ill suited.


On the good end of things I was able to push Cibolo through a stubborn moment during the ride involving a refusal and scary flapping stuff, and my confidence never wavered. A few months ago I would have gotten off and walked us through it. I didn't even consider that this time. I regained his attention and we rode through it.

Could I be done with the fear that I rode with for so long?

Time will continue to tell.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

More on trailer loading

A busy schedule as limited my time at the barn and today I just had time to visit Lily and Cibolo. I've been fretting over Lily who is showing signs of being off. Today I took some time to figure out what's going on.

It looks like she needs another injection in her right front. Unfortunately it will have to wait for a month, we're a bit stretched right now. No riding for her until we get that done. I know the cosequin helps, but it's not quite enough any more.

Cibolo and I had our third trailer session. I can see our progress building, but I have to remind myself to not expect it to be done in just two or three sessions. My goal is high - get this trailer loading to standard: self loading, no stick, no lunging.

Today I only had to get in the trailer twice (a 50% reduction! LOL). After 5 minutes, he loaded in - again a big improvement (no slanted horse time), but wouldn't move in enough for me to get the bar in place for some time. He turned in the trailer once and came out face first and we worked to correct that.

It's funny, every time we go back to face the trailer after exiting, he pulls back. Not so hard that he breaks my hold, obviously he could do that any time, but I feel like he's checking to see if there is another option. How serious am I?

Serious. But steady, not mad.

I remember the rule - as much as is possible, be the post. I don't yank, I don't get big. I'm just the post. We stand there, ten seconds, probably, him pulling back firmly, yet allowing me to keep him in place. Then he rocks forward, almost as if he's using that momentum.

I'm focusing on having him keep his face forward, he keeps turning his head to look back, away from the dreaded divider, but to the short part of the slant load. He won't fit that way, unless he works on his yoga moves.

But it makes sense. Turning his head toward the divider is how he got knocked in the head the last time, so he clearly is working this bit out. I pull his head over slightly, try to help him make a good choice. Everything is slow and soft.

By the end, he's in with just my pats on his hindquarters. We pause there, and then quietly out and back to the pasture with friends.

We're getting there I think.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Blind on horseback

When you get a chance, please read this great post. It'll redefine courage for you.

Turn Right at the Sarcophagus - Eye opener

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Someone else is riding my horse

That's what it feels like these days. And I mean it in the best possible way.

Since we got back from the endurance ride, Cibolo and I have been out on two trail rides around here. We've trotted and cantered and I feel so different, it's like I'm someone else.

Even my friend, TR, said "Who is THIS?" as I cantered ahead of them on our trail ride around the lake. I felt so good, like I wasn't a big ol' drag to hang out with any more.

Maybe I'm not someone else. Maybe it's me and I've just sloughed off that old skin, the one that was filled with anxiety and trepidation, and the woman underneath is simply no longer worried about this horse.

Or maybe I found this girl again:

Cibolo seems much more in tune with me. He doesn't nose out anymore, now that my hands are staying centered as I trot. When he resists, we work through it, but I don't worry. He's not going to blow. At worst, he's going to jig, ask to get some energy out. And I can do that now. And he listens.

I feel like we're a team.


Before we went out I was working on bitting.

I like a horse to take a bit willingly. Literally open their mouth and say "sure". Kathleen suggested messing with the upper lip to get a horse to bit, instead of the tongue feathering. Cibolo doesn't fight the bit really, but he goes in phases of taking it. Lately I've been able to get him to drop his head for the reins.

Today, he took the bit in his mouth willingly after just a moment. Nice.

I'd like to try bitless as Sydney does, I think he's a good horse for it. He just doesn't like the bit all that much.

But I'll need to sell some writing first.


We got some energy out cantering up a hill this morning, then we walked and trotted through neighborhood trails. There are streams, roads, houses, dogs that charge fences, metal lying around sheds, cedars that need trimming, good places for trotting and cantering, slick rocks you have to slow down on. Great training ground for horses. Lots of hills, narrow trails too.

We all jumped at the dog (he startled all of us), but other than that, there was nothing more than an ear swish.

There are also places on this trail where you are glad you wear your helmet because all of a sudden a low branch whacks you on the head when your horse decides he needs to hop step over a rock on a hill and you weren't quite low enough.

Not a hard thwack, but a nice, solid reminder.


I wish I had taken pictures, but I don't have a good carrying system right now. I hope to order one soon, I'm thinking of this one (click on it if you want to see it attached to a western saddle):

Since the intro endurance ride I've wanted to find something that doesn't bounce all over the place when you're trotting. And it would be nice to have my camera actually with me for a change.


We also did trailer loading at the end of the ride, but I didn't have the time to finish, really. We just worked for 10 minutes. It was good, he went in and stood, and I could see him getting worried. We stood there for a moment and let it go past. While I didn't have time to push him in further to get the butt bar on, we ended on a good note. It's coming along and I'm not in a hurry.

I think I "get it" now. Let's hope I can keep it.

Thanks to everyone who commented on my last post, it's wonderful to get support for taking the long way and not the expediate way. I always feel like I'm surrounded by goal oriented folks who just want me to "get it done already."

Like Geri the Cleaner says on Toy Story 2:

Ya can't rush art.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Regaining what was lost

Our early trailer loading sessions, 2009.

At the end of our endurance ride and after a good bit of down time, it was time to leave. Leaving would be hard for Cibolo because he was going to have to leave his BFF Amigo.

But also trailer loading had been unwinding for us.

Back when we went to the clinic, trailer loading was already unwinding. Then he hit himself quite hard on the divider as went to close it on the last day. Ever since he’d become more of a pain to load and I found myself having to lunge and get stronger and stronger in my energy.

When people try to help me load him, it’s always worse. The whole “waving from the back” approach is ineffective at best with Cibolo, dangerous at worst as he will sometimes twist and turn like a gymnast avoiding both them and the trailer and me. If you think you’ve cut off every direction but the trailer, he’ll thread the needle just to the left that you never thought was possible. I always end up asking folks to leave me alone, and then we manage to load on our own. But it doesn't solve the problem, really. It patches it.

When I loaded him after the endurance ride, (after about 15 minutes) he wouldn’t even take the traditional “happiness is in the trailer” cookie. I’d gotten big with him, pushed him, had to tell people to not try to close the door behind him because that wasn’t going to help (it didn't and someone nearly got run over - he wasn't ready for that). Once he was in, it didn't feel much like a victory. It felt done.

I don’t want to anthropomorphize, but as I walked over to him, I could feel he was … frustrated at his treatment.

We went on a ride to the lake on Monday late afternoon with similar results. He took a long time to load to go home, and I ended up getting big, making him lunge, all of it, while it eventually worked, it was also all wrong.

I had read Lisa’s wonderful post about feeling her connection grow with Apache and I realized mine with Cibolo was being compromised with how I was handling his loading issue. Something was up and I needed to take the time to figure out what it was.

Sierra and I went to the barn to spend some time with Lily and Cibolo. Sierra is going through her emotional ups and downs of pre-puberty (“I’m sad and I don’t know why!” she moaned) and horse time turned out to be a wonderful salve.

We gave our horses a good cooling bath, then did some hand grazing.

Then I decided to take some time with the trailer. This time we weren’t going anywhere. We had time. He could confront his issues on his terms. I had no “carrot stick,” no cookies. Just the lead rope.

I got in the trailer with him three times (he’s always willing to go in if I’m there – it was the self loading and closing the bar that was causing problems), and on the third, he sighed and dropped his head.

Then we began the process of figuring out what was going on with self loading. At first he wouldn’t load. I didn’t do any lunging and only a tiny bit of gentle backing. That was more to get his focus, not “making the wrong thing difficult” kind of backing.

Soon he was putting his front hooves in the trailer and just standing there, a big old slanted horse. I let him stand that way as long as he wanted, and after a few times he was leaning in and stretching his neck out, sniffing, mostly at the dividing bar. He’d look around, checking everything.

It took about 15 or 20 quiet minutes and he got in on his own and stood there until I asked him out. Then we did one more load and he moved in and let me pat him gently to move him forward and lock the bar in place. It was quiet and calm.

And he took his cookie. His contact with me was no longer distant. Not perfect, not all the way, but definitely on it’s way.

I felt much better after this, felt like I was finally doing it right. I still think he’s going to have issues loading for a while. I believe I’m on the path of a permanent (as permanent as things get with horses) solution to loading that doesn’t compromise the other part of what I’m looking for with Cibolo: A solid, trusting mount, who follows me based on experience with my fair and even handed behavior.

I plan on doing this again this week,just taking time to do it right. Like Kathleen said, take the time to fix it, not just "good enough" but right.

Fix it. Not patch it.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Accidental Endurance Ride Part 3

You signed us up for WHAT?

Tacked up with my brand new saddle, two little water bottles and 5,431 butterflies in my stomach, we headed down to the trail head. I painted a bright green "130" and tried to glean what that number meant. Surely there weren't 30 riders.


There were 38.


The start of the 25 milers

Too late to back out now. I mean, my horse had a number on his butt.

I got to the check in and gave my name and number. Ann and Carol were there on their "babies" - a grey arab for Ann who's name was River and a sorrel Arab named King for Carol. Both were barely 4 and River was fresh from the trainer. This is why they were in the intro ride, where green horses or green riders got to head out and give it a try.

Now that I saw the crowd, I was not so thrilled. There is no way I would have agreed to this ride had I known there would be 38 horses. Cibolo did fairly well standing there and I began to think it was a manageable situation until the OTTB started bucking. Then Cibolo was whirling and very... concerned. I got him back under control, but the butterflies I had brought with me had morphed into bats.

I worried we were headed back to South Texas and our ride in Conception. We'd made lots of progress, and I knew so much more. But this was the same situation all over again.

For miles, Cibolo jigged and snorted. I tried turning him, but there were too many horses and frankly, turning just seemed to increase his anxiety. I tried to relax him, stop him, but he fought me. The "babies" were a bit agitated and that fed his nervousness too. At one point I wanted to get off and do some ground work or something, but Ann and Carol both said - just a little further. You can handle it. He'll settle down.

I was getting frustrated and longed for the quiet mounts I saw passing us by. Maybe I was out matched here. Maybe it was too much.

I started muttering his nickname for moments like this. French Fry.

Then Carol said, after being exasperated at some bad trail behavior around us, "Let's trot."

I didn't really want to trot because I thought it would get Cibolo's blood really going. Speed was always the enemy with bad behavior, at least that's what I had learned.

But something happened in that trot. With every foot fall, his anxiety melted. He needed to go faster than a walk, needed the release. It was something he couldn't get from the turns or bends. For Cibolo, he needs a chance to clear his head, and it happens when he hits the ground at a trot. When we slowed down, he was still hot, but nothing like before.

I was stunned. This is the piece I was missing. This is what my friend had done at the trail ride at Conception that I couldn't do - he'd let him canter and "run it out" of his system.

We could do this.

At about the second mile we discovered something else. River kicks.

Luckily my stirrup took the blow:

See the bend there?

Here it is, a little closer.

I guess my guardian horse angel was watching me on that one, because River gave no warning. The clang on the stirrup was loud and based on this damage I'd say I would have had a broken foot - or worse, Cibolo would have really been hurt.

I think at this point it's time to hand over the story to Cibolo who has his own perspective on the ride:


We got totally lost this weekend.

You know I was kind of suspicious when we got to this place where Amigo goes and there were those stingy rope things up. I had my own little stingy rope pen which wasn't so bad since I got all the hay that was tossed in. And there was extra alfalfa, which I LOVE.

I got the low down from a few horses there - the grass was good, no mares were in heat, there was a stallion here and there, and even a few other of us highly muscled types. Mostly it was the skinny horses though with all the mane hair.

I say real horses don't waste energy growing mane hair.

Anyway, me and mom headed over to the trail and there were some real schizoids there. I tried to stay away from most of the worst of them, since I know that's a sure way to get tossed in a ditch.

We hung out with two skinny horses, youngsters really. One of them kicked my nice new saddle. I should have bit him, but I've got more class than that. Then there were a bunch more horses, and the herd just kept moving around, there were so many of them IN MY WAY. It was creeping me out. Finally, after trying to explain to mom that I needed some space or something, I got to shake a little off and me and mom trotted. It felt great. And she finally stopped with the "easy" business. We got to trot a lot and it was fun.

Pretty soon we got to a place with some water and mom got off and squirted something NASTY in my mouth.

That was electrolytes, Cibolo. One of the women brought an extra one to share.

Yeah. Like I was saying. Nasty. Then mom kept going on and on about the water. I knew it was water, I was standing in it. She even splashed some on my mouth which I DID NOT LIKE.

I got to eat grass even though I had my bridle on which is usually NOT ALLOWED PERIOD. So that was good.

We kept going and I figured we'd be coming up to the trailer any minute. I mean we had gone five miles (according to my highly accurate mental odometer). We never go this far except for our trips at the lake.

But there was more water and she was back to trying to get me to do something with it. Then I realized it. We were lost. Totally lost. I took a tiny sip of water and considered my options.

Then we were off again. We found a pond and I decided it was a good place to drink and I was thirsty. The mud felt great on my legs. Mom was worried I'd lose my cool boots, but they stayed on, no problem.

Again I got to have some grass, which was good. We trotted and cantered a lot, but we were still lost. Sometimes Mom got out of balance, I think her left hind was bothering her. She kept messing with my stirrup there. But she did okay, considering.

There were some spots where the skinny horses got nervous, but I told them everything was just fine. One of them, the gray, did not like cactus. Every time he'd dance away like it was going to get him. I laughed and laughed. Then there was this wolf...

It was a dead branch

I don't think so. Anyway, I totally intimidated it with my fancy foot work and it played dead.

Fortunately, thanks to my knack for these things, we got back to camp and we had gone 15 MILES. Also the vet was there to make sure I was okay. I said of course I was, and proved it with a really low heart rate - better even than the skinny horses.

Everyone was very impressed.

I have a calm nature. That helps.


Then I went back and Amigo was there. He looked real tired, so I figured I'd tell him how I had to get mom home from God knows where later. I had lots and lots of hay, and lots of water.

Hopefully we don't get lost next time. 15 miles is a long long way from the barn.

It was a beautiful ride, through incredible country, and Cibolo was a champ. He can definitely do this kind of ride even though he's not a "skinny horse." And he pulsed down better than anyone and ended up in top condition.

I learned I can ride him through his emotional moments, that they really aren't that bad. That I've been fearing more than what he's been actually dishing out - afraid of where it could go, not where it is. That's a new and powerful realization for me.

There is a tiny bit more to tell, but I'll save it for another time. This is definitely long enough.