Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Pale Stranger and Remedials

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

Why have you come here? I asked him.

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

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

So we bolted him in the trailer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Magic of Christmas - Crib Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s part of the magic of Christmas

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Not a Silent Night

Carols on the Square...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Geek - Crib Notes

From my weekly column -

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

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

I am a Christmas Geek.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 17, 2010

Parading About Town

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mares only like winners.

Mares like geldings with manners.

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

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

I’m not saying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It wasn’t that bad.

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

The garland?

Yeah! Clearly dangerous. Probably tastes bad too.

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

We stopped for AGES.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had the best mane, too.

You sure did.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Patience is not a virtue, it's a requirement

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

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

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

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

Anyway, I guarantee your local library has this service.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Focus. Purpose. Patience. My new mantra.

Hope you've been riding...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Second Ever Reindeer Games

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

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

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

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

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

Little Bella was running around in our hand walking category.

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

My girl. She's so big!

The only team with helmets on. :)

A handful of horse, as I said...

We had the following events:

Barrels - for a warm up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Tale of Two Coats Part Deaux

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

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

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

And this is Lily's coat:

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Tale of Two Coats

Smokey with his brother from another mother...

Where, where, where have I been.

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

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