Monday, August 30, 2010

The pony express made it!

FYI, the effort to get 20k letters for wildhorses has been exceeded:

Wow! What amazing supporters we have! On August 1st, we gave you a goal of 20,000 letters to take with us for our Pony Express Mustang Delivery to Washington. Our deadline was set for September 1st.

We just wanted to let you know that we have completely blown our goal out of the water with the overwhelming response from so many wild horse supporters! Just over this past weekend, we received 7,234 letters from so many of you, which brings our current count to 26, 995!!!!

Thanks to everyone who responded. You can still add your letter. Even people from outside the US can weigh in too:

We have had a couple of people from outside the US that wanted to write, but cannot do it from the Pony Express button, because it asks for a US zip code. Or if the link isn't working for you, please email directly to

Mailed letters can be sent to:

Saving America's Mustangs
2683 Via De La Valle, G 313
Del Mar, CA 92014

You've got until September 10th. Fill those congressional mailboxes! Click here.

Details on the letter delivery will be coming soon.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Headset, schmedset; Mireya and Cody in love; Sierra cantering like a wild child

Okay, here's how things are:

Jill is right. What the heck am I worrying about?

I mean, I know where all this "worry" stems from. I've had two bad experiences. But those experiences had nothing to do with headset. They had to do with:
A. horse too bucky for me to fix,
B. Leadership on a testy horse.

I'm understandably concerned since now I'm on a young horse, which was never the plan.

And yet, I get the feeling that this is remarkable the right horse - he's gentle enough that I don't worry, yet he requires me to know what the heck I'm doing because otherwise he's going to go all over the place.

And he does test, but like a toddler, really. Well within my capability to handle.

At this point, Smokey and I have two things to really accomplish over the next few months: leadership and miles.

Plus I have one thing I need to learn - better and more consistency in my three aids.

So that will be my focus. And if I feel it fading at any point, I'll call on D to help me fix it quick.

Next lesson will be coming in a few weeks (back to school killed the budget around here). I'm working on reins and legs and the combination of both, and based on our efforts in the arena today, I'd say we were making it happen. Every ride we start pretty catty wumpus, but within 10 minutes we have it all sorted out. I know it's me, I'm still getting my hands together, but there's a little of a "really? Can't we just go stand in the shade?" from Smokey too.

Anywho, today, after watching way too many Chris Irwin videos at State Line Tack, I got Smokey into a canter - with ONLY my seat!

Seriously! I wanted to high five someone. Instead I stopped my horse (with an exhale, no less) tossed my reins and gave him the biggest neck hug ever. He seemed darn glad we got that sorted out. Then we walked it out, quite pleased with ourselves.


Mireya is in serious love with Cody. She wants to ride him forever and ever. Remember, this is the kid that had a huge meltdown less than a month ago when she was just SITTING on him. Today she had reins and after a lesson on rein basics (which I'm still learning myself - so much of motherhood is that way, isn't it?), we headed out into the drive way area.

"This is kind of like a trail ride, right Mommy?" she asked me, beaming from atop "her" horse.

"Absolutely," I said, holding Cody's green lead rope. "Now slide your hand down the rein and gently pull to your pocket."

She did. He turned. She lit up the entire sky over Texas with happiness.


Sierra is back to cantering on Lily. That horse loves that kid. I wish you could see how Lily acts with her. She bits up best with Sierra - the rest of us have to cajole. She's stopped doing the rushing canter (no doubt a combo of light requests and just getting in shape).

Sierra sits beautifully and I think of the lessons she's had. She's a natural athlete (which she got from her dad), but those lessons gave her a great foundation.

I gotta get me some of those lessons. :)

Hope your weekend was equine filled...

Friday, August 27, 2010

Headsets and "Dangerous" Ravines

Smokey and I have been working on backing, turning, and steering, all without the chambon, or neck stretcher. You can read about them on wikipedia.

I've been following Kate's posts on gadgets and softness closely. My own concerns rotate around an axis of what my trainer uses (and she's a very gentle trainer, actually), my own lack of knowledge, and my goals for working with my horse. The trainer recommends this gadget, I am not sure how to keep my horses head down consistently without being in his mouth constantly, and I want to work softly with him.

What to do.

At this point I've decided on a sort of middle ground - I'm using the device, but only sporadically and only for 5 minutes at the start of a ride. I am finding that on the trail (in the round pen he doesn't put his head up much) I can get Smokey's head back down when it goes up, but it's much harder and takes more focus. And the challenge remains in keeping it there consistently. I can see how these gadgets can make you lazy and soon you stop communicating, relying on the device to do it for you.

Discipline certainly needs to be there for both of us.

Today we tackled the SCARY ravine, a long ditch about two feet wide, with a drop of about 6 inches to a foot. ooooo!

Smokey was convinced he had to leap across it. Which was progress from the inital balk we worked through. For the last three days we've walked, lead, and just ridden across different sections of it. Finally today he figured it out and stepped down into it.

I've heard horses can't really understand how deep things are. That it takes trust for them to just step down.

If that's the case, I guess we made another step on our journey together.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Reading your horse's face, part 2

Here's reading your horses' face, part duex.

In our first series (click here and you can check out the book all this comes from), we were looking at a profile. Now here's a full face view of Smokey...

But first, a few answers to questions posed.

1. Bumps on the profile - what do they mean?
A bulge between the eyes is unpredictable and slow learner, a bump below the ey is some inflexibility and resistance under pressure, and a "quirk bump - several inches below the eye" indicates a horse that has trouble with submissive training.

2. What's a moose nose?
A moose nose is a bulge on the lower part of the nose, it sort of looks like the horse has a little fatter or longer upper lip. Sensitive but bold, this horse is like the herd leader, but a "kind" alpha. I think Woody is this kind of horse and he has a moose nose. Either that or a Roman nose.

3. Is it valid?
I have no clue. I see some things that seem dead on, but many times I can't tell one attribute from another and its always the ones where if it's A your horse is an angel, if it's B, you've got demon spawn.

As I mentioned before, Mireya is helping me with the close calls, since she hasn't read the book and is not predisposed...

Nostrils: I'd say he fits the large open and moveable nostrils. In fact Smokey likes a nice nostril rub now and again. "Eagerly active and interested." I'd tend to agree.

Ears: I'd say he has fine, fluted ears, sort of Arab like. I think this is a Morgan characteristic though. Supposedly signifies intelligence. And Smokey does like to multitask, as you can see. LOL

Lily has broad ears that flare out in the middle, reminding me of Kate's Noble. Those denote steadiness and reliability.

Pin ears (really short ears) are willful.

Lip: Smokey's is pretty flat - not heart shaped, but at the same time he has the most mobile upper lip I've seen on a horse. I swear he could pick up a dime and spin it with that lip. Means having curiosity and physical need to have contact with humans.

Absolutely. He is a very affectionate horse, and curious. We had a session with the ball in the round pen (for despooking fun), and within 10 seconds he was moving the thing with his lip. (Apparently I need quail or vultures for de-spooking. He's not worried about plastic bags either).

Eyes again: Not widely set, not narrow. Wide means intelligent, narrow means slower to learn. I think he looks average.

Swirls: Smokey has two very faint swirls, which in 70% of horses can mean a horse that will react badly. Other times they are a great horse (this is where the similarity with horoscopes comes in. Can sorta apply anything to any feature sometimes).

A long swirl down the nose means it's a horse that is friendly and particularly enjoys people.

So the bottom line? Smokey's features seem to bear out what I've experience with him so far. He's smart, friendly, curious, and willing. He is young, so he does need the miles, but overall I'd say he fits his photo profile (two swirls not withstanding).

I plan on running a few more horses at the barn through this book. Definitely the king of my kiddos, Cody. Would you like me to post those? Let me know...

Monday, August 23, 2010

Trail Ride - A new test for Smokey Part 2

TR and Woody

When I first stepped into the stirrup, Smokey began to move. Darn it!

I stepped down, relaxed my mind, and moved his feet quickly. Then I came back and asked him again to stand.

He stood still and I mounted. He took a step - but that's something we are still working on, so I turned him and he settled.

I flexed him twice, and he did so willingly. It was then I really let go of what happened in the parking lot. That was over. I was riding this horse, the one in my hands NOW.

I trust you. You can trust me.

At the start of the trail there are two poles, meant to discourage vehicular traffic. However their placement and height can discourage equine traffic as well. Smokey and I let Woody lead through (Cibolo never would go through that opening either, we always had to send Lily through first), and fell into the middle slot. Lola is a little touchy so I didn't want to take a chance getting kicked, especially since my foot is starting to finally heel (I'm still in das boot).

Don't-Sniff-My-Butt-Lola and former barrel racer, H.

The trails at the lake are not for the weak at heart. You are going to ride through all kinds of terrain. And we did. We rode through everything. Tall weeds. Open fields. We trotted. We walked.

There was even a moment when Woody, the best trail horse I know, spooked. Smokey stood calmly by, waiting for whatever the next step was. (Woody eventually got over the puma-like-bush, with a little urging from TR. In fact, it made us all laugh, Woody is so good we all figured something HAD to be in there.)

Smokey and I led in some spots with no trouble. We tried finding a trail I hadn't been on much, but I couldn't figure out where to turn off, so we doubled back. We went to the trail end and cantered in the open area.

And for a moment, we galloped. Woody's pretty fast with his lope, so it was really the only option. Then Smokey rated down nicely. Then we left the herd and cantered on our own.

Several times TR commented that he liked Smokey, liked him for me, that we fit well together, he liked his temperament, his kind eye.

Was Smokey winning over his greatest skeptic?

As we left the field and headed for the loop back, we heard someone calling. It was D, who had ridden her Arab Amigo down from the barn (along a busy street no less) in hopes of joining up with us! What great timing!

On the way back we headed for that 'off the beaten path' trail that I didn't find but that D knows, but even D missed the trail somewhere. We bushwacked through hills and rocks and fallen branches. Smokey handled the terrain well, working over rocks easily, never tenderfooted (although I did work to keep him out of the worst of it).

Here we are, backing up for our photo.
I had left Smokey's bridle on in case I needed to lead him.

Nope. He's also wearing a cambon which D has had him in,
and which I continue to ride in most of the time.

Smokey had one spook with a deer, but again, it was rideable. Not like my vulture experience, which was an "out of saddle" experience. And better yet, Smokey came right back together, as if nothing had happened. Most horses I've gone through a serious spook with will jig or dance for a mile until they recover their brain...

D and I talked about what happened in the parking lot and she reminded me that as good as Smokey is, he's still a young horse. He's going to get worried. It's okay. As our bond grows, he will be more comfortable facing such situations with me and won't get as worried. He'll gain confidence in my leadership - over time.

I asked if there was anything else I should have done, but she didn't have any other suggestions (anyone? anyone? Bueller?).

Then it was time for swimming in the lake, which felt exactly like you'd imagine it would feel to be riding in 95 degree heat then swimming with your horse in a beautiful lake, the water cooling you off until you don't feel the heat anymore and your horse is groaning with pleasure and blowing bubbles in the water.


At the end of the swim and as we were loading up I asked TR what he thought, and if I could "keep" Smokey.

He said no, HE wanted to buy him.

We laughed and he asked for "right of first refusal" our little joke I used to have about Woody - if he was ever for sale, he'd have to offer him to me first.

I'd say that Smokey won him over - with fair caution about the nervousness without other horses. We'll work on that. I'm not worried.

Smokey and I have nothing but time ahead of us.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Trail Ride - A new test for Smokey

H on Lola, TR on Woody

The plan was in place. Adam and I would ride at the lake, meeting Trail Rider and H. We'd meet at 10 am, Adam on Lily and me on Smokey. It would be the first time I took Smokey "off property" on my own, with out the Barn Owner (D), so I was glad he'd have Lily there too.

The kids were off for overnights at Grammie's and at a friends, so nothing could go wrong.


Of course, like all good plans thought out and carefully attuned to the needs of all involved, it began to unravel. Sunday morning Adam decided he'd like to go on a motorcycle ride to a friend's.

"That's okay," I said, "I bet Stephanie will really enjoy going."

So off I went to the barn to meet the farrier, B, who would be taking a look at my barefoot boy for the first time. B and I met and she was amazed at what great feet Smokey has - he's always been barefoot.

"Look at this! His feet are LEVEL!" (insert much farrier speak here, I just smiled) Then she said his trim was on the house because she rarely sees a horse with such terrific hooves.

And she could NOT believe he was 4 and a half. He was so easy to trim, so calm. "No way. Did you check his paper's?"

I laughed. Little does she know I practically have had an FBI (or would that be EBI - Equine Bureau of Investigations) background search completed.

So then I hear from Stephanie. No go. She has to run errands.

Hmm. Now, I'm going to go by myself.

Trail Rider calls. He is on his way, and I realize the time. Luckily he's got a much longer drive. I hook up the trailer and pull around. I load my gear. I try to talk D into going, but she just woke up and isn't really ready.

I'm sure everything will be just fine.

I load Smokey in the trailer after a brief moment of resistance. I take a deep breath. We are off.

On our own.

We arrive at the parking lot at the trail head, but there's no sign of Trail Rider, although there is another trailer there. I unload Smokey and bring him around to the side of the trailer. His head is high, and he's looking around.

Then he starts calling out. Obviously there are horses here! Where are they! He calls, prancing on his line.

I flash back to Conception. When Cibolo, the previously calm horse, turned into a complete whirling derbish, melting down into a mass of crazed, sweaty, "I'm not listening to you" equine nut job. I spent 12 of 14 miles sitting in a truck, hauling the horse I couldn't ride.

Not again. Please. Not again.

Trail Rider calls. My horse is calling on his own horsey cell phone of sorts in the background. TR had taken a wrong turn, after hanging up once to try to quiet Smokey, I call TR back with directions and he is on his way.

I start line lunging Smokey. Slowly I start to get him back, but he still calls to horses I can't see. I back him 5, 10, 15 steps. I work on leading him. He's cueing in to me a bit, but it's still bad. He is still high headed. I line lunge him again, harder. I pull his focus to me again and again. Each time I keep it a bit longer. But he's still high headed, still over reactive. But it's better.

Trail Rider pulls up in his rig.

"I'm not saying anything," he says, watching me with my still stressed out horse. The unspoken "I was afraid of this" hangs in the air like a noose.

Smokey really begins to settle down now that other horses are being unloaded. I saddle him up without a problem, he stands perfectly still, just like always.

I close my eyes and visualize the ride I want us to have. What happened doesn't have to dictate the future. The past doesn't have to dictate my travel with this horse.

I visualize the ride I want. Calm, confident, a good team with me as a leader. Trotting. Cantering. Crashing through brush, not worried. I open my eyes and stroke the face of my horse, my sweet Morgan, his new bridle looking beautiful in the bright summer sun.

I gather the reins, moving to his side, and I put my foot in the stirrup. It's time to ride.

(Nice place for a cliff hanger, right?)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Scenes of Summer's End


Down by the river

Growing up so quick

Finding more than courage. Finding a friend.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Pony Express in Washington DC

If you haven't been keeping up with the news, nearly 600 horses were "gathered" today. An effort is underway to get 20,000 letters to DC to elected officials who have been deaf. But you can't ignore a woman on a horse.

Here's more info from the Madeleine Pickens website:

We have heard you voice your complaints about the roundups.

We have listened to you share so many of your personal stories about your own adopted mustangs.

We have all sent thousands of letters via fax, email, and mail to our Government. Even calling phone lines that have since been unplugged, because of the volume of calls.

We are doing all of these things daily, but there still has been NO change.

It’s time for the PONY EXPRESS!!!

I will personally hand deliver each and every letter that you write, via the Pony Express (one of our beautiful mustangs), to Washington DC. I am setting a goal of 20,000 individual letters to take with me. Americans, International supporters, animal activists, anyone who would like to tell President Obama, Secretary Salazar, and Bob Abbey that we aren’t going to sit by waiting until these roundups are over is encouraged to write. This is a very important issue to hundreds of thousands of people that have pleaded with our government to stop gathering our wild horses. This way they cannot unplug their phones, make their website impossible to send a comment to, or delete emails. These are GOING to get to Washington. I promise you that!

I've written my letter. Yours is just a click away.


Had a nice ride on Smokey today, arena work (where someone really didn't want to ignore the horses at the other end a few times) and out on the trails alone. Just an hour, the heat was oppressive.

Bad news, I saw a dry spot on his back afterwards. Maybe this saddle doesn't fit. I'm goint to try my other saddle tomorrow.

As to my riding, I think I've corrected all I can on my own. Time for another riding lesson...

(we have computer issues, which will be resolved shortly, then we'll do some more horsey face analysis and have a brief "he said, she said" with Trail Rider. stay tuned!)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Baby Pictures

Smokey, all legs.

Today I got a copy of Smokey's papers and I found the farm where he was born and his baby picture.

Here's mom (looks like she's got another bun in the oven):

Rochaven Faith

Couldn't find a pix of dad. (LOOK! Fantasyk Voyage found it for me! Thanks!!!)

and the description fits Smokey's nature: Stormy passes along his gentle disposition and willing attitude, as well as large expressive eyes to his foals.

Mtn Man Majestic Storm

And this is a photo I took of him when he was in for training back as a 3 year old.

The first day I met Smokey, summer of 2009

I plan on calling them once I get the paper's transfered.

One thing for sure - he's no baby now. He has been moved into Lily's paddock and she's in MAJOR heat and he's... willing to make a darn impressive effort. Apparently he's unaware of the whole GELDING thing.

I believe this makes Lily a "cougar." If you don't know what that means, consider yourself lucky.

Even with the distraction of a mare in heat teasing the heck out of him, Smokey (aka Rochaven Smokey Mountain) rode wonderfully.

I finally found my balance at the canter on Lily, stopped leaning forward and even managed to lose the chicken wings. And once again I felt that bubble of laughter at the canter.

I rode with joy, joy to be with both horses.

Life is good.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Video You'll Never See

I video taped myself riding to see if I could spot what I needed to work on.

Woo howdy.

There's something you won't see on YouTube (unless my daughter decides she has no intention of living to see her 13th birthday).

Seriously it was AWFUL. But the good thing is I was able to get over my horror and get to work. I finally figured out what I was doing wrong with my steering. I was trying to direct rein Smokey toward the rail - sorta. What I needed to do was open the outside rein, pull the inside rein over his neck, push slightly with my inside leg, and make sure I was sitting straight and not LEAN FORWARD OR INTO THE TURN!

Yesh. Where did I pick THAT up?

I haven't had this problem steering, mostly because my horses up to now ignore bad direction. Not Smokey. He is used to doing as he's told.

This is good for me, I realized, as long as I don't take too long to get my act together.

Anyway, yesterday I worked on
  • sitting straight,
  • looking much farther ahead (like we did with the cows),
  • thinking "ride the rails,"
  • use a slight pressure from my inside leg,
  • stronger pressure on the inside rein coming across the neck,
  • open on the outside leg and rein,
  • with an ever so slight little finger pressure on the outside rein when needed to keep the head straight.

It was like full body algebra.

But darn it if we didn't get to riding together! We actually rode the rails, and then, after a bit, we hit the trail.

Alone. We rode out alone. And he was terrific. Not barn sour, willing to get out there and work even in the heat. We didn't do anything too obnoxious - no hard cantering, or trotting in this heat. More mental work, with a few bouts of trot and canter here and there. We worked on turning around obstacles, being precise where each hoof fell, backing and doing hindquarter yields. By the end it was wonderful. For both of us. We actually went where I thought I was telling him to go.

Maybe next week's video will show an improvement. But chances are you won't see that one either. LOL

BTW, the headstall came in with the bit and I have to say, I was thrilled with both the quality, speed of shipment, an price. Seriously - go to Half Circle Ranch. And if that weren't enough, they are doing their best to only stock American made products.

You know you need one of these. And for $35? Woo hoo!

I'll try to take some pictures of Smokey in his and will do more horsey face analysis next time.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Reading your horse's face

Sometimes ordering the wrong book takes you
to fascinating places.

Somewhere along my journey with horses, I picked up this book (click on it for ordering info). The title was misleading - I actually thought I was getting the one about how to DO T-touches (which I did eventually order - it's here).

This one is actually about judging a horse's personality based on the shape of various parts of it's face and body. Weird, I thought. Then again...

Right before I got this book, I was in a big meeting and they had a person who did face reading, and it was... chillingly accurate.

So when I got this book in the mail, I wasn't completely opposed to the idea, although it seemed a little like horsey horoscopes. But the more I compared horses I knew to the pictures in the book, the more uncanny the accuracy.

I thought that I'd run Smokey through the book and see what I came up with. This will be in two parts, because it just might bore you to death otherwise. :)

Special thanks to my assistant, Mireya, who helped me match the pictures. She was sort of my impartial judge. After all, elementary school is ALL about pattern matching.

You are supposed to look at the features that seem most prominent, or different from others. For example, some horses have widely set eyes. But if eye set is average on your horse, that characteristic probably won't tell you much.

So let's run him through the ringer.

First, the profile.

There are 12 different profile types (with helpful sketches) in the book ranging from straight, to dish, to moose nose and more.

Smokey most closely matches the straight, flat profile - "a horse that is very "uncomplicated" and learns easily."

He has no bumps/bulges I could see, there are three types of those - between the eyes, just below the eyes and much further down the profile, each of which indicate different personality traits.

Dish faces, for example, indicate sensitivity, but when combined with a 'moose' nose, indicate uncommon intelligence.

The muzzle

There are 7 different types of muzzles - Arabs tend to have a teacup muzzle, for example, a muzzle small enough to get into a teacup. Those reflect intelligence and sensitivity. Smokey's muzzle is no teacup, that's for sure. He most closely matches the square muzzle - tends to signify "a stable, uncomplicated nature."

The jowl.

Jowls come in small, medium, and large. This one was the toughest for me, I'm guessing Smokey's a medium - that means an average ability to learn - large is more intelligent, small is a little slow and lack of confidence.

While we're here, let's check the mouth. It also seems medium, which, according to the book, doesn't indicate anything, really. Short mouths can mean inflexibility. Long is sensitive, and can get bored.

The eye

I'd say it's large and soft, more round than triangular. I think most of us feel this kind of eye is "kind" and the author notes this indicates a trust of people. Pig eye is inflexible, triangle shape doesn't really indicate anything.

The Chin

And finally, the chin. There are 7 kinds of chins. Long and flat, pointed, short and rounded. Even a double chin! Smokey seems to have the round, soft chin - "easy going and uncomplicated."

Next time we'll check out the ears, nostrils, lips, and swirls.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Lucy little star. We'll miss you

We lost a member of our family this week. Lucy Little Star, aka Kitty cat meows away, aka Kitten, got terribly ill. During my three days off she didn't come in for her nightly sleep inside (she was an indoor, outdoor cat). It worried me, but it's happened before, sometimes she just goes into the garage.

She came home late on Saturday, and didn't want to come inside. I fed her outside and kept an eye on her. By Sunday evening I was really worried. Her food was only halfway gone and she didn't seem to be drinking water.

We took her to the vet in the morning and they gave her antibiotics, injected water under her skin, kept her all day to observe her. She ate a bit and seemed to perk up. We took her home and hoped for the best.

Apparently the best was on the other side. The next morning her breathing was terrible. We tried to feed her and give her water. After getting back from school registration (which was way more complex than I ever imagined was possible), I knew we had lost. She was lying in her own mess.

I wrapped her up and took her to the vet, who was nearly as torn up as I was. Lucy was only 7 years old.

It could have been anything, but I think she ingested something poisonous. Not in our yard but in the neighbor's (who I suspect is poisoning the feral cats, because suddenly many of them are gone). I have no evidence, and besides, it would mean she'd gotten into his yard. Needless to say, our kittens will not be allowed outside.

Lucy was adopted from our local shelter, having been selected by Sierra. She was fantastic with kids, and even starred as the "evil cat" in both of Sierra's movies, "Twinkle Dogs" and "Twinkle Dogs 2 - Revenge of the Evil Cat". (We will be posting them online someday.)

She was definitely cast against type in those movies - she was the sweetest cat in the world. She used to accompany us on walks in the neighborhood when we took the dogs out, slinking from yard to yard like a commando. She purred like a Ferrari, and could be held upside down by three year olds. Lucy never stuck a claw in anyone even though there were times I certainly would have.

I miss her so.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

On order... Headstall and bit

Ah, tack shopping. As they say, buying the horse is just a start.

So let's SHOP!

I only have a one ear headstall and TR said a one ear headstall isn't a good choice for a young horse.

So here's Smokey's new headstall. And I ordered a Myler bit, which is what he's in now.

I ordered them both from Half Circle, where the prices were very good. Hopefully the quality is too. You can visit their website by clicking the picture.

It looks like my saddle is fitting him (it's too small for Stephanie, so it's mine and she's looking for a gaited or other option), although I may check other saddles I have to make sure it isn't my imagination/wishful thinking. I wish we had those "naked" trees again. Maybe I can find a local saddle fitter that doesn't try to put every horse in a QH tree...


Last night after the kids did their riding, I went to get Smokey. I love how he walks right up to me and drops his head in the halter.

Smokey and I worked on walk trot transitions in the round pen. By the end I just "thought" walk and we were down, "thought" trot and we were up to a trot. And I'm talking within a single pace.

Pretty amazing. By the end we also came to a halt with just an exhale and deep seat.

We worked on figure 8s, because steering is still loose. So we rode figure 8s until they actually looked like balanced figure 8s.

Back at the barn there was a brief moment when Smokey thought the salt block on the way to the wash rack was out to get him. He sniffed at it, raised his head and gave it a "what the heck" look. Then he just stood still, refusing to go forward, so I did the post routine until he moved, then, looking at me, he took a step. I lessened the pressure, and in we went.

I'm enjoying finding out what works best with him, what kinds of things concern him, and where we need to work. But his willingness to try and innate curiosity is just lovely as we go along together.

Tonight or tomorrow we'll work on steering in the arena, and continue our walk trot work. Friday morning it'll be a trail ride.

And, in a few weeks, I'll schedule my next riding lesson. Hopefully the cowboy will be available to whip me into shape.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Smokey, Spooks, and Riding Cold Backed

Me and Smokey, pre-spook.

Yesterday I went to the barn to ride on Smokey again. While I had committed to buying him, I hadn't put money down, hadn't signed anything.

So I decided I would do another little test.

I got on him cold backed. No lunging. No prep work. Just get on and go.

He stood stock still for saddling.


He lead quietly.


He took the bit without a fuss.


He moved a little when I went to mount, I moved him around quickly. Then he stood still for mounting.

Close enough.

We rode just up and down the road, then over to the round pen. Behind us, Cibolo spooked at a sparrow. Smokey ignored it.


We went in the open gate in the round pen and left it open.

A huge bird suddenly took off behind a tree. I didn't see it, but the folks with me and Smokey sure did.

He spooked! He was running, taking off, having a fit! I could barely hold on! I thought back to all the times I'd been through this...

Just kidding. That one was for YOU, Trail Rider.

So actually, the huge bird took off suddenly, Smokey saw it and spooked slightly, shifting to the right. Then was quickly back to work.

Check. I can handle that.

We worked on softening his backing. And me understanding his cues. Getting softer and softer until we were backing with weight and a slight pressure in stirrups and reins.


Then I dismounted and he was stock still for that.


We hand walked. He got distracted for a moment, I backed him two steps. He didn't take his eyes off me after that.


We put a funny hat on his head. He looked perplexed but cooperated. He watched Mireya do a funny dance.


I'll be writing one today. A check, I mean. :)

All teasing aside, I do plan on doing one thing different this time. I'm going to be the same in the saddle as I am on the ground. I am going to keep the rules clear and consistent. To that end, I'm going to train and learn as much about riding as I did about ground work. I'm going to be ready to get pro help as needed, and often. I'm going to ride other horses, and work with a wide variety of trainers. Just like Trail Rider suggested, and has been suggesting for some time, and at times with more vehemence than others.

Because Smokey is just 4. And I want to do right by him.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Ranch Sorting, Trust and Expanding Your Horse Horizons

Say Hi to Opie. Or is it OP? Which stands for "Old People."
Opie, don't worry, everyone is very nice on this blog.

The orginal plan is that TR, C and I would head over to Dave's place and get some lessons, cowboy style. Straight shooting, to the point, no pussy footing around. So when I texted the only cowboy I know who can text and ride, I was surprised when he called me and told me that he had forgotten that he had a clinic going on for sorting cows - ranch sorting is the technical term.

Personally, I sort all my cows at the grocery store. Lean, super lean, today's special... you know.

And cows make me a little nervous, truth be told. Remember when the bull came over to the barn? I did manage to chase him off, but I was more than a little intimidated.

But I was too excited about my all horsey weekend to not ride out this change in plans. So, I let TR know, and while he didn't think me or C would get what we really needed (which was some cowboy telling us in no uncertain terms the 500 things he tries to tell us all the time), he was up for it. He decided to bring his horses for him and C, but I let cowboy Dave know that I'd need a horse.

After all, my goal has been to ride a different horse every chance I get. TR wants me to get on as many different horses as possible, and in the last 2 weeks I haven't ridden the same horse twice in a row yet.

Hence, OP. Op was brought to the clinic for someone who ended up with a hangover... er... ended up not coming because they weren't feeling well.

Thank goodness TR told me to bring a saddle. OP is 20+ and has some serious power steering. That horse knows how to sort cattle, which made one of us. He was fantastic but once again I found as I was riding him around in the beginning, trying to get use to his nature and controls, that we were wandering all over the place.

Trust the horse, I told myself. Once I trusted him, I knew that the only thing left was to fix what I was doing wrong.

So I focused, realizing that I was cueing this horse somehow. He was so soft, that while he was dead broke, he was also very responsive and I was unconsciously cueing with my legs again, just as I had on Smokey. Thankfully Opies was also very forgiving. I got myself together and we were finally going straight and true.

There was quite a mix of riders. Some were women like me - never did anything like this, just loved horses and were looking to learn anything they could. M and I were the only total newbies, everyone else had done it at least once before.

Funny, I never had that old trepidation, even though I was on a horse I didn't know, doing something I had never done before, in a place with people I didn't know very well, with thousands of pounds of future happy meals running around.

M on her lovely horse Louie, Me on Opie, the smarter-than-a-40+-greenhorn horse

Two women were fearful of their horses and their horses were ill behaved. It was good for me to see this, it was like a bright highlighter came on in my mind every time I saw control crumble in their hands.
  • She's not correcting that horse that's pinning it's ears.
  • She's not carrying through, waiting until she gets the horse's head down before releasing the pressure.
  • She's rewarding that resistance because she's too scared to finish.

I thought of the times control crumbled in my hands, a dozen little missed cues, adding up exponentially until I had worked up to a buck or crow hop. Or just aimless ambling.

To their credit these women rode out many of the issues they had with those horses, rode through their fear. I knew that place on their journey. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. But now, I'm on the other side of it, just by a millimeter, but it's the biggest darn millimeter in the world.

J on her buckskin - she was one of the best riders out there, TR and Lola next to them.

Other riders were solid riders on solid horses, like J on her hot, beautiful buckskin. That woman could ride and sort! She was there to improve her technique, but I just admired the way she moved as one with her horse.

There were three men, including TR. I was a little surprised - I know women own the horses in this country (by and large), but this ranch sorting thing seemed like it was boy horse stuff. I didn't expect a 3 to 1 ratio here too...

The rest of us were somewhere in between - a little more solid with our horses, but still with things we needed to work on.

I watched teams working, tried to pick up some idea of what the heck I was supposed to do.

Then it was my turn, and M and I, the only two newbies, headed into the pen.

I'm going to presume that you know what I know about ranch sorting. NOTHING. So you experienced people, just scroll down for a minute.

The idea of the game is a lot like flying Southwest Airlines. Load the pen in numerical order. The calves (or are they cows? I have no idea), who are suddenly little things when you are up in a saddle, have numbers around their necks (although I've been told there are lots of ways to put numbers on them, so YMMV (your mileage may vary)).

So there's the little herd, wanting nothing more than to stay together, and you go in there with your horse, find your calf numbered "7", and separate him from his buddies and only let him go into the other pen without 3, 0 or 1 running in with him.

Usually one person goes and drives in the calves and the other guards the pen. But we switched out constantly. I suspect that was for our training, not for efficiency.

And let me tell you, chasing little calves with numbers on their neck is FUN! If this is on your bucket list, go get it done, but look out - cuz you won't want to stop. The best part of it was that you learn while focusing on something outside your horse. You have to get yourself in a good basic riding position, but then you have to watch the calf, move it along and not over think what you're doing.

And cows are not just pre-burgers! We had one little cow, number 3, that had the best head fake in the business. He'd look like he was going one way, then would dive another way. It's enough to make you think about switching over to sushi. (Kidding. I intend on supporting my new calf sorting addiction with some organic beef)

The instructions from Dave were:
  • Watch the cow's head, not it's butt.
  • Keep riding.
  • Get out of the hole, quick. (the hole is the gap between pens where the cows run through)
  • Communicate to your partner.
  • Keep on your calf, your partner worries about the others.
  • Keep him on the fence.
  • Break up the crowds, just get in there!
  • Don't turn away from the calves when you are in the hole. Back your horse, move his hindquarters. (So that's why you teach them that!)

TR was kind enough to video a few runs, so I've included them below, these were at the very beginning. Possibly the slowest ranch sorting you'll ever see (usually you have 75 seconds then you're done), but I'm still pretty proud of what we did.

I was pumped when we got ours done, finally with a clean run, at a little over 2 minutes, on our last run of the day.

Oh yeah. And I decided to buy Smokey. But that's another post. :)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Dream Horse and the trail

Lily with her fancy braid.

One thing Trail Rider told me to do was to ride Smokey. Ride him a lot. (He actually said Maybe he'll buck you off hard, run off with you spooked...that'll cure you of this crush Harsh, right? LOL)

So after working with the kids on Thursday I rode Smokey by myself on the trails by the barn. We'd done some round pen work, but this time no one was on him first. We rode for 10 minutes, just up and down the trail, at a walk, trot, and a short canter. I found it was tough to get the steering right with him, so I focused on my legs, focused on my hands.

Even when Smokey and I were not quite communicating, I never felt that old anxiety I've had when things go wrong. I was able to rate him down, bring him in.

Hmm. Strange.

We kept riding and slowly got the parts working. We ended on a good note.

That night I found myself thinking of something I read on a blog - I think it was Beth's blog, Fearless Riding - that you must trust the horse.

Trust the horse.

And that's what it's been about for me. I trust Lily - except for her canter, which is chargey and I have to work on. And that's the only place I only have trouble with her and, of course it's all linked together.

Lily: You realize I'll get this braid out of my hair in about 10 minutes.

Trust the horse.

The words of the barn owner echoed in my head - the thing about Smokey is that I trust him. He never does anything stupid.


Friday the entire family left for a trip leaving me ALONE.

ALONE!!! This never happens! I was now facing 3 days on my own.

Since it had be a perfectly horrible week in many, many ways, I was thrilled that I could indulge myself in horse time. When life's stresses are this intense it's horses where my world resets. Where perspective comes back. Where I remember that everything in this life is just temporary and you must make the most of the moments gifted to you.

It's something that can be hard to remember, until you get with a horse.

So my goal. Ride horses every day and remember to trust those horses. Give the horses the trust - which is what they give you when they let you put that bit in their mouth. Of course you have to earn that trust with them every ride...

I took Lily out that evening and we worked on trotting and transitioning. It took a while, especially since Lily has not been ridden in months because of her coffin joint. But I trust Lily. Even if she gave me one cow kick as we were going. I shrugged it off.

I trust her.

By the end of our session we were going up and down with only energy. No more cow kicks. That's when I learned that the key to Lily's collected canter is to cue softly. A big cue means we are racing barrels and we need to GO.


This morning I headed out for a big day. The plan - we were headed to the lake to ride. I'd ride Lily, Stephanie would ride Cibolo and Smokey would come with the barn owner. Then about half way we would switch and I'd ride Smokey and barn owner would ride Lily.

Lily and I had a few tough moments as she blew sideways twice, once during a trot canter transition. Her canter had been tough to sit and I was just a mess. When she went sideways I came down hard - but Lily moved back under me and we were back in business, with just a minor bruise that would come up later.

Damn, I thought. I can't ride a canter? Yesh.

Then, at the end of the trail it was time to loop back. And I'd ride Smokey. During the entire ride I saw Smokey stay quiet and handle every position on the trail.

Usually the horses are pretty fired up heading back. They know this trail. They know when they are headed back.

We started out with some trotting and cantering around the big field at the end of the trail. Now Smokey's canter, I could ride. I felt that feeling that I had on Woody, that laughter and joy bubbling up. After our second loop I started to feel how to rate Smokey, how to bring him in.

We headed out for the trail ride. It was one of those rides - like TR says, a hall of famer.

At one point a deer or 'dillo, or something stirred in the bushes. Smokey remained calm. He was remarkable.

Later near the trail end we were back to going sideways. And I figured out what I was doing wrong. Then we trotted all around the parking lot, controlled, consistent circles.

And then we all went for a swim in the lake. Lily was a little more comfortable in the water, Cibolo was hysterical, groaning and moaning with pleasure. Smokey was part submarine, sticking his entire muzzle in the water, blowing bubbles.

It was an incredible day, and incredible ride.


Tomorrow TR and I and C are off to our lesson with Dave - during a cow sorting clinic. I wasn't supposed to be in a cattle sorting clinic, but sometimes things just work out that way.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Riding a dream and finding our way

This is Cody. and he made one dream come true today. There's my daughter's best friend on his back.

And here's Lily in mid grass grab.

Lily is always careful around kids.

Mireya riding Cody, the Wonder Horse

Mireya, who the last time I tried to get to overcome her fear had a major meltdown, faced her fear today. And rode one whole circle.

It helped immensely that her best friend rode and Cody plodded happily along.

Cody has been passed around quite a bit in his life and I often wonder about what his life has been like. He's not a total dead head. He'll canter when called upon and, more importantly, plod when a scared little girl is riding.

Thank you Cody.

Today was Lily's first day out of the stall and boy, did it show in the round pen. Bucking, tiny little rears, charging around. I hope the fact we were working in the round pen made it "light work." But it's such a relief to see her feeling better.

Then it was time to take the next step.

Today I played with Smokey.

We worked in the round pen. Couldn't quite get the join up and since the kids were around I couldn't really focus on it. He did well, though, and I worked him through his gaits.

We lead around a bit. Very well behaved.

Then it was time for a ride...

Which I'll write about tomorrow...

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Riding your dream horse

Yesterday I rode my dream horse.

I guess Smokey isn't my dream horse, because if he was he'd be older and more experienced. But he has been the horse I've really liked, (okay, loved) since I first met him.

Smokey, the buckskin 4 year old morgan, 14.2, who has been under training at our barn, is for sale (you can see him here).

Like Lily (who I told the owner that I would buy when she wanted to sell him), I said from the moment I saw him that he was my horse. So I was excited to actually get on him yesterday and ride.

Smokey has got the smoothest gaits. And while he has a lot still to learn (let's get that head down. Lets work on steering a little. Lets soften that back), I felt oddly confident on this horse. Probably confidence left over from my rides on Woody, who is much more the kind of horse I need to get. We cantered, trotted, went up and down hills and he was sane, sweet, and it felt like I was floating, his gaits are so smooth (he is NOT gaited).

It was incredible to ride this horse I've admired so long. Someone is coming to look at him this weekend and hopefully will see what I see - a beautiful horse, with great temperment. Young but steady, forward but not hot.

I wish it was 2 years from now, where both of us would be more broke to ride. But given his price is already at the top of my range and the fact that he needs a trainer to work with him for a few months, this is just not the time for this dream.

But I hope you'll forgive me if I don't want to wake up.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

At the Vet and a Gift

Yesterday we went to the vet. Lily had the works done. Teeth floating...

Extra sedation for the Caslick procedure (which you can read about here, but warning, it has graphic photos), and her coffin joint injection. So basically she got worked from both ends and even the bottom.

At least she had a sense of humor about it.

Then, after a very stressful day (unrelated to the vet visit) I opened an envelope on my desk and found this:

A very sweet Morgan mare. Thank you, G. It's exactly what I needed.

Especially since I'm in love with a morgan who looks a little like this, but he's a buckskin. Who is still for sale at our barn. But too young for me - he's only 4.

But a woman can dream.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Lily swims and Catching a ride

Sunday was a cloudless day, the blue sky a stunning dome over the hill country. A perfect day to take Lily swimming at the lake.

She had been showing reluctance to load so I had decided we needed to get her out before vet day (which is today).

The whole family went, which is kind of funny because all we did was walk our horse to the lake and let her enjoy the cool water. We only got her deep enough to swim once. We didn't even picnic or anything.

There was a moment when Sierra was on Lily, I was holding the lead rope in the water, and I looked up. There was my daughter, glowing, thrilled to be back on her horse, Lily's sorrel coat was glistening a golden orange, the perfect blue sky behind them was deep. I took a photo in my mind. It's the one I'm going to hold onto for those tough days we all have, I'm going to hold it and bring it out, and remember.


Late in the day I joined TR and C at our old barn for the weekly trail ride. Once again TR was generous enough to let me ride Woody.

TR wants me to get a horse just like Woody. I, of course, would love Woody! LOL

But I know a large aspect of why Woody is the horse he is is because of the work TR does with him regularly. While Woody is an honest horse, he's also worked by an honest horseman. Which is what I'm going to work on becoming.

I worked more on using the split reins and managed not to feel like a moron. Okay, a little less of a moron. I worked on the proper cue to cantering Woody in the arena, and worked on my body position again. I was leaning forward in the trot, and Woody was trotting faster. I switched to my cantering position and together with a stronger cue in the right place, we were cantering. I dropped my shoulder less. It felt not so overwhelming to remember everything.

I'm looking forward to next Sunday. Not only will the lesson be fun, but Lily will be ready for riding. While everyone seems to be offering me horses to ride, its still nice to ride your own.