Monday, September 27, 2010

Bad News, Good News and Big Accomplishments

Officially petable.

First one of two big accomplishments this weekend. Dyno and Sierra passed the test to be a therapy dog team! Sierra is excited to take Dyno to nursing homes to visit those who might enjoy the peace a sweet dog can deliver.

(Dyno will be blogging about this later. He's darn excited.)

The bad news is that Lily is lame. I swear no one is more bummed than she is.

We headed out to the barn Sunday morning, marveling at the wonderful cold front that had brought temps down to below 80. It was incredibly beautiful. We did a few warm up passes, then did a few hills - just walk trot.

When we headed down a hill she started limping and Sierra immediately got off. Lily hated coming into the barn, you could tell. She loves getting out and this just about broke her heart.

We put her in a stall and gave her bute. Looks like we have to start injections now. Was hoping that would wait for a bit, given our budget woes.

Smokey, observing the "graze" cue.

Sierra headed in and got Cody at our urging. On the Trail ride Smokey was pretty much in the lead the whole way, the cool weather just brought out his forward nature. In fact the only issue we had was standing still. So we worked on that for a while.

We cantered a bit, trotted, did some obstacle course (just circling, backing, going around bushes, etc.) work, and had a grand time.

Look at the size of this cactus!
(Thanks to Steph and Cibolo for volunteering to be size reference points)

Sierra and Cody had a fabulous time! They even ended up GALLOPING! This was Sierra's first gallop (long one, anyway)! Looks like Cody'll be going to Conception. It's good to have a bench player.

So, while we put a budget together for Lily's recovery, she'll be resting at home. And Cody will be headed to South Texas on Friday...

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Simple pleasure

Thursday I was in need of horse time. But I'm still not eager to take Smokey out on long alone rides, and I knew I was mentally exhausted, so I didn't want to do any real training.

I just wanted to be with my horse.

The horses were in the process of getting fed, were done with grain but jonesing for their hay. I filled a bag with hay and hung it in the alley so I could brush Smokey and he could eat.

When I first came to this barn I didn't get the "hang a bag of hay in front of your horse while you tack." I was really against it because it seemed the horses were very distracted. But then I realized that with an endurance rider its all about shoving calories down those horses and you want them to eat. I still have certain expectations of behavior when I tack up and I will occasionally remove the bags, especially if the kids are around.

And you know, they are just fine, hay or no hay bag. They don't revert to really bad behavior of squirting around without hay. And while they are a bit distracted with the hay bag, they know when you're serious and it doesn't take a whole lot to convey that.

Anyway, Smokey was eating and I was brushing and it seemed like the saddle and blanket were even more than I wanted to deal with.

Does this happen to you? Do you go through times where the simplest thing seems far too intense and burdensome?

I grabbed the reins and headed over to the round pen. Smokey was very good on the ground. We did a little testing in the round pen. He was already latched on. So, I rode him in the round pen bareback.

I'm not a confident bareback rider and missed the security of my saddle. He sensed this and was a little all over. I got down, put on my helmet (which I'd forgotten to put on), and tried again. Much better. I relaxed and he was still a little forward. I decided all we were going to do was work on brakes. Sometimes Smokey takes about 5 minutes to get his power brakes on (it's all ABS before then). And his reward would be the minute he have me a nice soft stop I'd get down. we probably worked on it 6 or 7 times, and there it was.

I slid off. I saw that sink in as I took off the reins. Then I sat in the middle of the round pen and sent him off - not to work, just to wander. At first he looked at me, waiting. I changed my posture, "releasing" him.

I wanted to do what I never do. I wanted to sit there and just be there. Soon enough he wandered the round pen, nibbling on a few shoots that had shot up from the rain. He took off spontaneously at a trot. He sniffed different parts of the ground, unraveling what mysteries were buried there. Horses who had run in the pen, working, focusing. Rabbits wandering in for a bite of something different. Dogs who rolled in that spot, then ran off for adventure, possibly involving the aforementioned rabbit.

He hung out at the gate, then wandered toward me. He came up to my left shoulder from just behind me and gave me a few good sniffs. I acknowledged him and he left for more wandering. Then, after a bit, it was time to go. I kissed to him, he came over and we walked together to get his halter.

It was a good time, the kind that makes you think you can get through another day.

As long as you can work some horse time into it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Getting Ready for Conception and Rashid

October is going to be a big month around here

The first weekend is the ride to Conception. It's a ride I have a little trepidation about, since last year was such a wreck on Cibolo and now I'm going with a horse I've ridden for all of two months.

But this time I'll be riding with Sierra and we can stay at our own pace the whole time. Hopefully that will be enough to keep Smokey feeling good. He's been so calm in other situations...

I'm the one with Clydesdales in my stomach.

Then, two weeks later, I'm heading to Santa Fe for the Mark Rashid clinic. Three days of one on one with Mark Rashid? I may pass out in anticipation.


It's a tough time for our business, the economy isn't doing any of us any favors. So this all feels ridiculously indulgent - going through with decisions (and deposits, in the case of the clinic) that were made nearly a year ago. But still, I'm going. At this point it's gas and food. We've got a free place to stay (thanks Dad!). I'd be eating if I stayed home, right?

And I know that leaving a few problems behind while I ride my wonderful horse is probably the best stress reliever of all... I can certainly use it.


We rode a few times this weekend and I'm always struck by how little warm up Smokey needs. I tried ponying a rather stubborn Cody on him, which was a mess, but not as bad as I'd have thought. Smokey tries so hard to figure out what I want him to do. He knew Cody was being stubborn about moving away from the gate that as I tried to turn him the second time, Smokey went to bite Cody on the bun.

Yeah. Thanks, but no thanks, Smokey.

Then we played cow sorting to keep Cody on task. Cody thought it was lawn grazing time and kept trying to turn to the left. We had a newbie on him and she didn't have the experience to keep him straight. So we kept cutting him off. Actually Smokey really got into the herding Cody thing.

Hmmm. What if it was a little cow? Hmmm.

I rode Cody later and had a heck of a time getting him to listen. Getting away with too much with little ones maybe? He wouldn't turn to the left. And I don't mean a hairpin turn. I mean "let's go to the trail" and he says "no, I'll go the right" and I say "No, you won't" and we go from asking to demanding really quick.

By the end he was turning at the ask and we ended on a very good note. But it was pretty ... hard getting there.

Lily is also doing well, although she was limping three days ago and sent me into a panic. Fortunately I haven't seen her limp since Steph buted her that day and I didn't feel any heat or see any swelling on her legs. So we are keeping our fingers crossed. We'll do a long trail ride this weekend to make sure she's up for the big ride at Conception. The Conception ride is all at a walk, and I have some medicine to help her that she can take before the ride, but I want to make sure she's fine. The shot shouldn't have worn off yet, hopefully it was just one of those days...

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Yeshio, the Andalusian

This is Yeshio. He's the Andalusian I referred to the other day. FV asked for a picture.

He is just beautiful, unfortunately at this point in his development it's only skin deep. Today it was my turn to feed and I decided I'd take on some of Yeshio's annoying traits.

Like banging on the gate, demanding to be fed.

I decided to take a page from Chris Irwin who says you should never feed a rude horse. So when he banged on the gate, I took the wooden part of the pitchfork and banged much more loudly back. He didn't like the sharp sound and danced back.

I went on my business, getting the grain organized and getting ready to feed. He banged again. I banged back again, more loudly. He scooted back. When he dropped his head, I took the pressure off and dropped his grain in.

When he waited for his hay he began pawing. I raised the wooden handle (not in a threatening "I'm going to hit you" way, but in a "this is my head and it's higher than yours" way). He stopped. He regarded me. He stopped pushing on the gate. I could feel his impatient energy change, into what, I couldn't quite say.

He waited. Politely.

I fed him and told him he was beautiful.

I decided to do this because I get the feeling he's passing on bad behavior to Smokey who started chasing Lily off her hay and pawing. He doesn't do it in front of me, but Steph mentioned it.

I don't know if Smokey is just coming into his own, or if it is the dynamic of a new horse in the herd.

I've noticed dramatic changes in herds when a single horse is added - and not just in regards to that horse. We had an alpha horse in a pen that is in the center of a paddock. The other, established alpha became a huge bully, putting some serious bites on everyone else in his herd. It was almost as if he was frustrated at not being able to herd the horse in the pen and took it out on the others. Or perhaps it was a form of showing off.

I see this and I think of how challenging it is to build a stable (no pun intended) herd and I wonder when we get our own place what is the best set up to be able to separate horses, yet let them be a herd.

I've recently decided that I need to focus on where I want to go and what I want it to look like when I get there. Want to come along?

I spend some time day dreaming about the best set up for a relatively low maintenance layout, one where you can have horses turned out 90% of the time, yet easily separate and protect them from the weather. I mentally review the dozens of places I've seen in the last three years, mulling over the pros and cons of each. My favorite is probably the layout at our old barn where the pipe runs connected to the paddock. It looked like this:
I'd like the pipe runs to be like the beautiful ones where Cibolo used to live, limestone rock walls, and beautiful wooden ceilings and metal roof, with a wooden name plate on every run. (Dream big, what the heck!)

What does your ideal place look like?

PS Smokey now loads fine. I had the BO help me get through the last of the resistance - getting him in the right position - and he's back to normal. Now I have to make sure I load him every day.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cookies in the Trailer

Just a quick update. We had a cookie dinner in the trailer, Smokey and I. Now he'll get in the trailer, but I'd say it was definitely a smell thing. He is snuffing the floor all over the trailer and raises his head in alarm.

But we've overcome it with cookies.

I'm never washing the inside of that thing again. Sweeping, rinsing, yes. Deep clean - never again.

Hopefully tomorrow I'll get him in there long enough to funk it up. :) Thanks for the reassurance!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Well, that's weird - trailer loading?!

So I had a teensy bit of trouble loading Smokey when we left the lake Sunday. It's weird, because he'd been loading just fine.

I took the trailer home and gave it a serious deep cleaning on Sunday (which was hysterical - if you've never done a self service high pressure car wash with an 8 year old, you haven't lived).

Then decided I should get Smokey to load when we went to the barn to drop it off..

Only he wouldn't. As usual, high pressure tactics don't work well with Smokey. He just gets weirded out. By the end (I had to cut it short, but we ended on a good note), he was walking up to the trailer calmly, but not quite loading all the way (got all four hooves in, just not quite in position). I'll try again tomorrow when I don't have so many time constraints.

Isn't it odd for him to stop loading? He was doing perfect, then Sunday was just a bit flakey, now zip.

The trainer says it's a young horse thing. Sometimes things just stop working and you have to restart. Does that make sense? Everything else is working...

One funny thing, at the end when I was just rewarding him for standing near it, he sniffed the trailer very intently - I imagine after our high pressure wash it smells really different.

I wonder if it needs some funk back in there.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

One thousand and one

This weekend it was time for me and Sierra to get out and do some trail time.

And here's the result.

'nuff said.

Next time I'll tell you about my treat stealing horse.

Worth a Thousand Words

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Building a Bond

We had some torrential rain this week, and about 9 inches fell at our house in two days. Once again people were lost crossing low water crossings, just like this February.

When it rains like that, a bucket kicked over, trees falling from the weight of rain, puddles formed in 2 minutes rain, I stay home.

Thursday I went out to the barn to take Mireya to ride Cody and only had a few minutes to spend with Smokey. So I did just a bit of ground work in the parking lot, nothing much. I was struck by how little we lost after so many days. I had thought that with a young horse there would be a quick drop every time.

Back in the paddock I was taking some hay to the far corner for the donkey who is getting the run around from the Andalusian Yeshio. I'm not a big Yeshio fan. He's beautiful, but a bit bratty having spent too many periods of his life getting trained, then being left to sit - over and over. He bites when the trainer bends him to her stirrup and is very high headed. So much so I wonder if its a breed trait. He's pushy and challenging on the ground. I move him away consistently and he's finally giving me space when I come in the paddock.

Hopefully he sells soon. I prefer my little herd of Lily, Smokey, and Pepe.

Anyway, Smokey follows me around the paddock as if we are still joined up. He snuffs at my elbow, stands behind me at just the right spot. I am trying to pay attention to my body language so much more after watching Chris Irwin and finding that it works magic. Communication feels clear, like a stream of water flowing through us.

Yesterday we rode, and again I was surprised. I worked in the round pen because I presumed it was necessary. But the join up was immediate and our work in the saddle was soft and controlled.

Of course *I* still need the warm up to get my balance, my center, my hands.

We headed out of the round pen over to the field to work on circles.

Our trot circles outside the round pen are not very good in the clockwise direction, he swings toward the barn every time. In the other direction we're much more consistent. We work until we are turning correctly, then move on. Someone told me too much circling is not good for a young horse's legs.
We did a little trail work, we are no longer brushing too close to trees, Smokey and I have worked out a grazing cue that's starting to sink in (the "graze" cue works, the "don't graze" cue is a little less effective. lol).

Then back to the round pen to pick up our rope halter, dismounting from the off side for practice, and walk back for a wash down.

It's wonderful to be in this place, to feel so good, to feel the trust, to know this horse and begin to understand his idiosyncrasies. Having a new horse has been nerve wracking for me in the past, this time there were little moments of that, but they faded quickly. Maybe because I feel I know him, maybe because I have more support this time around.

Maybe I just know more and have regained some confidence. Whatever the reason, I glad to be in this place.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Women, Men, and Horses

For some time TR and I have a debate about horses. Maybe it's not so much of a debate, really, it's a conversation with a bit of "I'm right" in there (although we are both too polite to out and out SAY that).

It's about the different ways men and women deal with horses.

The expectation of a relationship with horses is very different between men and women (warning, this is FULL of generalizations and your mileage may vary). Heck men don't even like the R word.

I agree with his observation that women are often not strong/stern enough with their horses. The boundaries for many women aren't there sufficiently and some women see certain behavior from horses as endearing when it's actually rude. This is probably overly projecting human behavior.

On the other hand I feel most men are quick to judge behavior from horses as being "disrespectful" or "lazy" when many times the horse is either confused by the cue or has inadvertantly learned the wrong thing. I wonder if men are projecting human behavior as well.

Then I came across this well written, well thought out post by Julie Goodnight, a trainer I admire greatly. Here's a quote:

Just as men tend to approach life with bravado, women tend to approach life with cunning and finesse. I believe this accounts for why horses relate differently to men and women, for better or for worse.

I encourage you to read the whole post (which you can find here). It was fascinating and really summed up TR and my conversation on the topic so much so that we decided it was, in fact, the definitive answer.

And with me and TR, that's saying something. :)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor Day Sunday at the Lake

Sigh. Anyway, note no chambon, no halter! :)
Thanks, TR for the photo!

I decided to throw a party of sorts. I wanted to invite several parts of my horse world to ride at the lake on Sunday.

So I got busy texting - folks at the barn. Folks from my old barn. My farrier who had said she has always wanted to ride at the lake.

I tend not to have many opportunities to plan this kind of ride. Life as a working mom has just enough wrenches to be tossed in willy nilly at any given moment. I hate letting people down, but the eight year old gets sick or Dad's back goes out or the dog has to be rushed to the vet and voila! You are Ms No-show!

Plus riding my new horse in a big group was another big step for us. But Smokey's been to the lake plenty of times, and he'd have some familiar herd mates there. I thought it could work. So I organized baby sitting, DH went out of town, all I had to do was stay focused. :)

The lake trail is a beautiful one (click here for a nice little website with a of a few trails in our area). I never have any pictures of the lake because I'm much to busy loving every moment. One day I'm going to go and just take pictures at every turn because in many ways this is a wonderful mix of environments. Wide open fields. Heavily treed areas. Water crossings. High weeds to walk through. Trails long the lake shore. riding up and down ravines. It's lovely.

Here's the run down of who came with:

Davy on sorrel QH Amigo, Kelly on red roan QH Chico, and their daughter on my mare Lily (Sierra was feeling under the weather, but Lily LOVES trail riding and I was so happy she had such a great rider).

Barn owner/trainer Donna on the gaited Palomino Buddy (who is 4, nearly as wonderful as Smokey and for sale), and Steph on Cibolo

Barb (our farrier ) on her black QH Nekohoma (I think that's his name) and Deb on her sorrel TWH Trigger.

Me and Mr. Smokey Mountain (I use his full name on trail rides)

TrailRider on black Azeteca Woody and his daughter V on dun QH Lola (woo boy does he have a story for you on that ride)

Sharon (my old barn owner and adventure partner from my Canyon days ) on her black QH mare Ebony.

It was a glorious day. The temperature have finally decided to drop below 100, making the day downright cool for a week into September in Central Texas. Smokey and I drifted between groups, learning more about some of the horses I didn't know. For example at one point I heard some heavy breathing right behind me and turned to see Barb on her QH.

"Hey, quit breathing heavy on my horse's tail," I joked.

She laughed, and Deb (who was riding to one side) laughed too and said "We call him Free Willy."

Now this horse was black with a small white stripe, but that hardly seemed reason to call him an orca.

"Really? Why?"

"Because of his trach."


Sure enough, this very nice, very forward QH had a hole in his neck that you could put your fist into. Turns out he was having tremendous problems breathing - only getting 20% of the oxygen level he needed. The vet suggested she consider a trach - since the only other option was putting him down and he was such a good minded horse. So Barb opted for the trach.

And he's been a blow hard ever since. His only limitation is no deep swimming (not that he didn't try).

Over all things went smoothly. Cibolo had a few moments - he got laid into by Lola who is a mareish mare. He took off at a run after she tried to kick him. And in bigger groups he really feels the need to be in the front. Ironically in a group of three he is perfectly content being last. But Steph rode him through it, sometimes into the brush and eventually with the cantering group.

Smokey and I stayed in a trot walk, mostly because we wanted to keep Buddy in a quieter pace - during our one and only canter he really took off with Donna. But she rode him through and got him back down. Smokey was enjoying the run too, and rated down reluctantly. A few times he'd get a little eager to go and we'd do a single circle and he'd come right back down.

Later, during an adventure I'll let Trail Rider relate, Smokey did do a 10 yard dash, but again, came right back down.

In a word, he did fantastic.

We all went for a long swim with our horses, most of them groaning with pleasure. Donna rode the Palomino who had never been in the water before - and he turned out to be a total water horse.

I finally got a nice water borne bareback ride on Smokey. Then, it happened.

I'd slipped off into the water and offered him one more walk in the deeper end before we headed back. He looked at me at that moment. Just faced me and looked at me for the longest time.

I smiled at him and petted him on his forehead. I felt him putting it together. He saw Donna on that other horse. We'd been here twice before. Lily was with us, but I wasn't messing with her. I felt the intensity of his gaze.

I'm with you. Not just for now.

I guess he hadn't quite made that connection before. But seeing Donna on the Palomino gelled it for him, I think.

That's right. I told him, smiling.

He gently dropped his head to me, and I dropped mine to him as well. We stood there in the cool lake water, hanging out, face to face, leaning into each other ever so slightly.

And when we walked out, we were somehow lighter.

What a great day... Hope yours was as wonderful.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Mireya takes the reins

Today was huge.

Mireya rode Cody BY HER SELF. No one holding the lead rope. The trainer, D, gave her her first real lesson. She took the reins and RODE. I tell you, she was over the moon.

We both were.

She can't wait to get back out again.

Anyone got a kids saddle for sale? Cheap? :)

I'll have a longer post with pictures later. Just too excited to wait...

Friday, September 3, 2010

Round pen - back to the beginning

Remnants of the round pen.

Back in the days of my bucking bronco, I worked a lot on ground work. I learned the Seven Games of Parelli. (You can read about them here, you can watch them below.

(this video is worth watching if just to see the foal play
with the umbrella about 5 minutes into it)

Then I worked on adjusting my round penning into the "bonder" based on Marv Walker's techniques (an interesting conversation about it here).

Then in the clinic I worked on containing my horse at the walk.

So with all this under my belt I felt like I could do anything on the ground with a horse. We could create a complete meditation circle from hoof prints if we wanted.

So why couldn't I get Smokey to "Join Up"? Why did I feel I was losing my brown belt ability?

Frankly it's part of a theme that's going on. There are a few realities of having a young horse that keep coming up. As good as he is, he simply does not get stuff yet because he hasn't done it for years in various situations with various people.

For example, while he's been worked in the round pen, it's been by one person. Something that I was doing was subtly off. Even when I saw the trainer, D, work him, he didn't quite come around like I'd have expected. He was inconsistent in his reactions.

He'd react in unexpected ways, raising his head at times he shouldn't. With me, he'd stop and look at me, then turn when I didn't ask. WTF? And when I got after him, he just spazzed. And not "good, he'll learn a lesson" spazz. The "I'm not listening to you cuz you are so weird!" spazz.


It was time to think more about what I was doing and explore what I needed to change. Since I had been watching the Chris Irwin videos (you can find here), I have been impressed with how extensively he explains things. Some times it feels a little ad nauseaum, but really, by the end, you GET it.

So I watched his round penning video. He is pretty harsh on existing round pen techniques. He works more from what you do with your core - and it carries over to saddle work as well. (my rein technique is getting better too, thanks to some of his suggestions).

Based on what I saw, there were several things I was doing wrong.

  • One, I might be looking in the right place (not at the eyes or face), but my hips were wrong, sending a conflicting message.
  • Two, I didn't use the dressage whip/carrot stick correctly to stop arrogant behavior. It's not just about increaseing the energy with the whip, it's how you increase it - twirling versus raising, versus shaking.
  • Three, I didn't consistently push on the right spot (like the barrel or shoulder depending on his movement) when he came off the rail.
  • Four, I didn't always recognize the good behavior quickly - I was focusing on achieving the wrong thing sometimes (like gait or turn) when my first goal needs to be acknowledgment of my place in the herd. Then, in time, we can work on refinements.

So for the last two sessions we've done round pen work. Once just the round pen, and today a session before riding.

And each time he joined up.

Progress. :)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Crib Notes - The Little voice says PARTY

Here's one of my humor columns for you from earlier this Summer:

Three days! My daughters and husband took off for three days, leaving me to my own devices.

After 13 years you sort of forget how to be by yourself for three days. Back in the day, I never had a problem with a good bit of alone time.

But you know what? It’s like a bicycle. It all came back with a vengeance.

In anticipation of the huge expanse of time I was going to have to myself I made a mental list of all the things I’d accomplish. I’d clear out closets! I’d tackle my desk, aka the black hole! I’d get rid of all the mismatched socks once and for all! Maybe I’d even paint the bedroom!

Then, the little voice in my head started screaming like crazy. It’s that little voice that I have managed to silence for years. Well, she was back and she was having none of this ambitious plan. “You are going to spend your first mini-mom vacation doing MOM STUFF! Are you NUTS? The heck with that!”

Pretty convincing little voice, I have to say.

Things went downhill fast at that point, but in an exhilarating downhill skiing kind of way. The list was out the window. My ambition completely disappeared.

I surrendered my badge from the nutrition police and ate things that were bad for me. Candy bars. Cupcakes. Powdered donuts. And that was just breakfast. The sugar rush nearly knocked me over, but it was so worth it.

I spent the morning at the lake with friends and horses and never once worried about how long I’d been gone or when I had to get back to feed, water, and clean anybody.

I watched little people on cable, which was strangely compelling, particularly since they handle pit bulls. (I did fold one basket of laundry while I was watching, a sort of “penance basket.”)

I left dirty dishes in the sink. Just left them there. (Okay, just overnight, but still.)

Even the dogs got in the act. They had a mid day hot dog snack, a smattering of cheese squares, and a left over powdered donut.

(Not in my column, but for us horsey folks, Sunday was when I went to the cow sorting clinic)

Then it was over. By Sunday afternoon I was running around getting things back to the pre-little voice condition. It was an intense two hours, but by the end of it I was firmly back in mommy mode.

But I tell you what, I’m going to give that little voice more of a listen. That girl knows how to have a good time.