Saturday, April 30, 2011

Our new saddle

Work has been a little intense, but that gave me time to wait for this to arrive.

This is the best deal I've ever gotten on a saddle and I have to say I really just spoke out loud - I need a gaited saddle, name brand, for about $500.

Meet my Circle Y, gaited trail gaiter, used 6 times. $560 (that $60 was for shipping). Found it on Horseclicks, which was a new classifieds for me.

Thank you, Universe!!

First day try out (for all of 15 minutes, had to get home): Very cushy seat, fit the horse, fit the butt. :) I will see how the flex tree works out. We have another flex tree saddle, also a circle y, park and trail model for Lily that has worked very well.

Hopefully riding is on the schedule tomorrow.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

What we are doing today

We are in the ring for Dog Agility today. You can see Roxie's practice runs on her blog here:

Wish us luck!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Smokey's Report

Dictated by Smokey Mountain, Buckskin Morgan.

Hi everybody.

It's been a while so I thought I'd give you a report on how things are going around here. Lily is not nearly as grouchy anymore, which is a big relief. She says I'm minding my manners better, but I think it's because she had to do all these exercises and she can make that scrunchy face at mom instead of me.

The best news is that I don't have to bite the saddle anymore. Mom figured out it wasn't fitting my massive shoulders.

See, now that I'm all growed up, I am really massive. Even the Momma mare is talking to me now. That's what happens when you get massive. Even the really tall mares notice.

Um, er....

Don't tell Lily. Okay?

So anyway, we've been going out on the trail a bunch. We even went deep in the trees and I finally got a good sniff of the black plastic tub that is on the other side of the biting ropes. It turns out it was just a tub. And all this time I thought it was a big hidy hole for the mountain lions.

Well, it was possible. You know, they have to hide somewhere.

But I don't worry anymore because I sniffed it. And I'm really massive. So I could smush a lion. If I had to.

And the good news, I finally trained Mom to stay in the middle of me so I can make the circle at the canter. She likes me to canter up the hill which is way hard. So I *suggest* we turn off early.

But then we have to keep doing it, so I guess she doesn't like my suggestion.

There is one strange thing happening. There are these weird bugs out. They are only around when I count. Here's how it goes. I'll be at the trailer tied up and I'll just be, you know, counting with my hoof (I can get up to five), then POP, there's a bite on my butt! A little tiny one, but then I lose count. So I decide to stop counting. That's what Cody said to do. And the little bites go away.

It's weird. Cody knows this stuff cuz he is ANCIENT. He says I need to relax more. I say he needs to relax less. HA!

So I'm going to ask for extra fly spray. A guy has to do something when he's tied at the trailer. Those biting bugs are very distracting.

Hope everyone is keeping their riders on board and the alfalfa is flowing. See you on the trail!


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lily and the Bit

Just a quick update on the bit drama.

When last we saw our Paddock Princess, she was quite surprised to be ridden without a bit. She behaved flawlessly riding in a rope halter and I never even bothered trying to get the bit in.

The point was "we are riding. bit or no bit."

Apparently she got the message.

In our effort to get Lily out more, I've been searching for an additional rider to get some time on her. Donna, who had had the bitting problem with her initially and brought it to my attention, had a more advanced student who was ready to move on to a more challenging horse. We agreed this particular student (who rides well and has soft hands) could ride her.

Today Donna brought Lily out of her paddock and Lily bitted right up.

Horses. I swear, some days it's like dealing with a 1000 pound toddler.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Riding without a bit and pictures from the trail

Today I decided it was time to start introducing Lily to the concept of work. The Paddock Princess, I decided, simply was exploring her options. I didn't want to go through a bunch of bit drama, didn't really have time, but after considering the options I thought I'd just ride her in the halter.

Basically have a positive ride, let her get out and realize that bit or no bit, work goes on.

I had ridden Smokey earlier in the day and got a rare second trip back to the barn. We saddled up - Lily is very cinchy and oddly, kept running into my elbow. After the second one of those, I petted her like mad, as if I was completely misinterpreting her intention. She got disgusted and stopped pinning and giving me the look.

I put the reins over her saddle and led her to the round pen to see how we were doing. Minor issues while leading - too close, not stopping crisply. We worked through it. In the round pen it was all but one inside turn. Good. I didn't canter her, because it was ridiculously hot. I wanted to keep the energy low and she didn't seem to have any nonsense she needed to work out.

Then I clipped the reins on the halter and got on. I wish I had a picture of the look on her face. She looked so surprised.

She was ultra sensitive to leg pressure and neck reined like a champ. It was like driving a car with new brakes and power steering. We practiced stopping, since the halter is not the best with her brakes, but it was all good. So, cautiously optimistic, we hit the trail with Sierra. Other than one brief "I think I'll go back to the barn now" she did very well. She settled in after 10 minutes. The tenseness in her muzzle was gone.

I still sensed attitude, but it was back down to a 5 or 4 level. When I rinsed her off and fed her, she was compliant. And when I tossed on some fly spray she didn't act as if I was possessed or something (she's been quite the drama queen lately).

So the good news is I think we are getting the old Lily back. Of course I didn't bit her, but my goal today was to show her that wasn't a way to get out of riding. I also didn't have the time to do it right, so there was little point to doing it at all. Instead, I wanted us to have a good ride, end on a positive note.

And we did. Good enough.


On another note, here are some cool pictures from the trail ride - my favorite one of me and Smokey is here, the one with his brother is here. Here's a great one of Cloud, aka "the horse that will not load in that tiny trailer."

There are so many good ones, Debbie does a great job - she took all of these from horseback! I'll be ordering at least two...

Saturday, April 16, 2011

More on Bitting and Picture Palooza

I appreciate the feed back on bitting Miss Lily.

Everyone raised very valid points. Here's a few thoughts.

She probably doesn't want metal in her mouth (although she has had it for 16 years, so one has to wonder why now).

She definitely needs more consistent ground work, but what's a little weird is that we have been working more not less, so that this would come up now seems odd.

I have my suspicions about an emotional reason that's possible, but I may be projecting, so I'm going to mull that over a bit before trotting it out here.

The axis was an interesting suggestion - we have begun carrot stretches and they are very hard for her. I wonder if in one of those stretches she made herself sore, or out of whack. That really feels like a possibility.

I'm going to ride her tomorrow in the halter, she can definitely go bitless, but her brakes are not that great. Lots of go in that girl.

I'm also going to do some bit sweetening just to get it in to see how it sits in her mouth. Lily is a bit of a princess, and can become very stubborn given too much time off. So I can go back to square one. But if she's not going to be ridden, I'm not sure what to do with her. The not riding is definitely making her unhappy.

Fortunately the MSM seems to be helping too. When I was working her in my attempt to get an attitude adjustment, she was sound. So there's one bit of good news (pun intended).


Sierra and I had a terrific trail ride Saturday morning. I can't get over how far Smokey and I have come. We worked our circle under the power pole with no problem, we hit all the odd spots in the trail, came down hill in control, not in a "OMG, I'm Gonna Trot And Get This Over With" and we went across the ditch repeatedly without jumping it as if we were on some hunter jumper course.

It was like I was riding a grown up horse or something.

Sierra rode Cody, giving him her signature forelock look.

And since Smokey has shed out I thought it would be fun to do some shots - cuz the buckskin is back!

Smokey: Do I have to stand here?
Me: Just for a minute.

Smokey: Okay, but my nose itches.

Me: *skritch, skritch*

Smokey: I think we're suppose to be smiling at her.

Me: Oh, that's right.


And a hug for the photographer!

Bit drama

Lily has decided she won't take her bit. This is somewhat out of nowhere, she's been floated, and she's doing better with her shoulder.

But she refuses to take the bit. I think this stems from how little work she's getting which is a bigger problem we will have to deal with.

No giraffe head, she's just gritting her teeth and no amount of tongue rubbing is working. I worked the snot out of her and got it in after, but it's not pretty.

What techniques have you used?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Storm Ranch Ride, Part three: Miracle #2

When I think of it now, when I look at those pictures of how close we came to the trees, I can't believe we actually just saddled up our horses and rode. I'd love to say we're just that tough, but I think it was more from a sense of obligation. Everyone had been kind enough to wait for us to arrive, then kind enough to wait for our rescue. It would have been darn right rude to sit it the truck and worry about the trailer drive home.

So we rode.

Did I mention the wind?

Of course not. I was distracted in the last post.

It was very windy. That gusty "blow in the predators" kind of wind. As a result, the first three miles were what you'd expect. Some calm veteran trail horses, many "up" horses, a few circlers (I was glad not to be the only one). The ride was designed to stay in the trees a good bit and avoid the wide open plains and real wind blasts. By mile three, and with some instruction from Donna, I got Smokey to finally rate (which was my goal) and got to stop most of our circling (which I had been accidentally training him to do instead of slowing down). By mile five he'd settled down enough that I could have some conversations.

He was definitely one of the greenest horses out there and benefited greatly from the company of the mule - a lovely mare with jack rabbit like ears, long and slender, and that of a light sorrel 30 year old who, in addition to her rider, carried a small "doggie bag" with a live dog right in it. Jenny was some sort of terrier who did the cutest back samba/grass scratching when she was out of her bag.

There were also several horses that took a rather strong dislike to Smokey, and we figured out quickly who to avoid, fortunately without incident. There were two horse-on-horse near misses, but that was it.

My eye was drawn to a beautiful dun, with a quiet woman on the reins. The horse was compact, with a lovely arching neck, and I rode up to meet the woman riding him, M. I was pleasantly surprised, or rather, shocked, to learn that her horse was a Morgan.

I've been riding out in this area for years now, been at three boarding facilities and countless events. Smokey is the only Morgan I've come across. Now we were two!

Smokey and his fellow Morgan, Kee, got along famously. Many times I got the impression they were passing notes, they'd touch noses as we walked. Smokey was no doubt asking if we were seriously going to walk the whole way, Kee, the more philosophical, responding that yes, this was a walking kind of ride.

Kee's rider, M, pointed out Erin (who was one of our rescuers) on a palomino. "See my daughter? She's riding a Morgan too."

Three? Three Morgans in a sea of QH and TWH? Amazing!

Then it got really really wild.

At our first water stop I pulled up next to M and Kee and asked how Kee got his name.

"He's from the only line of Dun Morgans," she said. She named his sire, someone with Kee in his name.

I was pretty excited to know who was the sire of Smokey. "Smokey is out of Mountain man," I said.

She leaned forward. "Did you say Mountain man?"

"Yes," I said, wondering suddenly if Mountain man was either famous or notorious, possibly for being impossible to rate down without whirling like a tornado.

She smiled and pointed to Erin and her horse again. "That palomino, my daughter's horse, he's out of Mountain man!"

"You're kidding!" I said, looking again.

Yep. We actually met Smokey's "brotha from anotha motha."

No kidding.

She named the palomino's momma. And here are both Smokey and Sun's (his older brother's name) moms - Rochaven Faith (Smokey's) and Daisy Doll (Sun's).

When we stopped for lunch, we brought the brother's together. Sun, like Smokey, is very "forward" and Erin had spent much of the ride taking him off to the side to ride up and down, let him get into a trot and stretch out. I'd done that too, but my main goal with this ride was to rate my horse.

They stood next to each other, and touched noses. Debbie, our friend who was on the ride, took much better photos, and I hope to get one here in the next few day. For now, you'll have to be satisfied with these iphone pictures.

Look at those faces! Don't they look related?

Sun: Just remember, I get the alfalfa, since I'm older.

Smokey: Not a chance, dude.

We enjoyed a quiet lunch under the cedars, hanging with our new found family. I wondered at the miracle of this. I was used to meeting dozens of Quarter horses with Doc Bar, or Lena. Those guys got around. But to meet TWO other Morgans and Smokey's BROTHER no less?

On the final mile, Smokey (as well as several of the horses) got pretty excited and Smokey and I had a little pitching going on. It was odd, but I found a tiny little sore when I washed him off at home. I wondered it that just broke open at that point, because it was a bit out of nowhere. Or maybe it was just "let me run to the trailer" kind of moment. Either way we worked through it and settled back down. We ended the ride safe and sound.

Debbie and Barbara (the farrier) followed us home to make sure we made it safely. The trailer guy is coming to check out the rig, Smokey had some trailer practice the next day, and I sit here in wonder of it all.

Grateful for the angels that pushed that trailer away from those trees and let it glide to a slow stop in the dirt.

Grateful for the angels that helped us get it back on the truck so we could get home.

Grateful for the accident happening in that exact spot, where there was no traffic, no highway, no huge ditch, possibly the safest way you could have your trailer come loose.

Grateful for horses that stayed relatively sane, pretty much model citizens for 80% of the time, and just goobers for 20%.

I've been given a chance to learn these lessons the easy way:

  1. Don't rush, just be late.
  2. Carry a big friggin' jack.
  3. And make sure you ride, despite the obstacles. Because you never know when you'll meet family along the way.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Storm Ranch Ride, Part two: Miracle #1

I have been the recipient of some fairly significant miracles in my life, the biggest was when my daughter's second heart intervention (the first was a surgery, the other was a procedure to widen a valve) went from failure to virtually total cure with nothing other than time and serious prayer.

This was another significant miracle.

When I heard the sound at the cattle guard, that was most likely the point at which the trailer had leapt free of the ball, but was still on the hitch or chains. The next sound was it hitting the ground and scrapping along the asphalt. When we went back to look there were twenty yards of scratch marks in the asphalt, long thin white lines in the gray ribbon of the road, looking like claw marks.

The trailer brake never engaged because the chains themselves did not break and Donna, just like I do, places the emergency brake cable on the last part of the chain, where the hooks attach onto the frame of the truck.

I will never do that again. From now on that thing goes right on the ball.

Because the massive weight of the trailer stretched out the hook of the chain, and the hook slipped out of the holds like a wire clothes hanger that has been reshaped to unlock a car door.

The trailer plowed toward the side of the road, building of speed because of the ever so slight incline, passing us as if we were a slow driver on a highway. It missed the first set of trees by three or four feet, the very top branches lightly scrapping the roof - just enough to peel the lights on that side off. It came to a halt a good ten feet from the next set of trees, another grouping of massive trees.

We ran out of the truck immediately to check the horses. They were perfectly fine. They didn't kick or paw, or toss their heads. There wasn't so much as a bumped nose, and thankfully they were both wearing fly masks so any branches that might have poked them, didn't.

I secured my lead rope to Smokey (I had just hooked him to the trailer ties, and carried his rope in the truck) and opened the back door to the trailer. I realized it was a bit of a leap to the ground, particularly since the trailer was at an unnatural tilt. So instead of backing Smokey, I turned him and let him hop out. He was a bit up, but honestly no more up than he is whenever he arrives in a new place.

Donna did the same with Cloud. We tied them to the side and I set out hay bags so they could relax, while she called for help.

And help came.

In this picture you can see exactly how close we came.

You can see the dent in the front - we think the trailer hit the truck bumper although we didn't feel it.

We went over and over how this could have happened. I didn't hook up the trailer myself. I think of other people's trailers in the same way I think of other people's horses. You don't hook up another person's trailer any more than you mess with their horse. Help, sure. Line it up, absolutely. But every trailer I've come across has it's little idiosyncrasies, as does every trailer owner, present company included. So I can't be sure of what went wrong.

We know we had the right size ball.

We know we had the lock on (you can see it's still "locked" in the first picture).

The only two possibilities were that the ball has somehow gotten worn, or that the hitch never fully enclosed the ball. Despite the fact that the lock engaged. Can that even happen?

Eventually, with the help of a mechanic's jack and some well placed blocks of wood, we hitched back up, but since we were close to the starting point for the ride, we decided not to load the horses back in. If the trailer wasn't safe, we wanted to find out when the horses weren't in it. Instead we saddled our horses up while someone else drove the trailer over to the parking area about 100 yards away.

The horses were up, way up, but so were we. They were in a new place far from home, and we'd just survived, without a scrap, what could have been a full fledged nightmare.

It would be a long time before any of us calmed down.

And yet, believe it or not, there was one more miracle (albeit a more minor one) to come.

To be continued...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Storm Ranch Ride, Part one: Accidents will happen.

I was looking forward to the big ride on Saturday. Ever since the endurance ride I unexpectedly took part in last fall, I was looking forward to another opportunity to ride the Storm Ranch. When Donna suggested I take part in the TETRA ride out there, it was pretty irresistible.

The TETRA rides are walk/trot affairs with folks who are there to just trail ride. No timed obstacles. No vet checks. No goals other than riding together, staying safe and getting your horse out in a big group of horses they don't know. Don't get me wrong, I think the timed obstacles and endurance rides are terrific. But these TETRA rides are low key affairs in beautiful places. The kind of rides people travel for hours, by plane or by truck, the ones ranches advertise in the Trail Riders magazine. They are about not seeing buses, or monuments, or telephone lines. They are about the land, horses, and like minded horse crazy people.

They are not about accidents.

But these things happen.


The plan was that we'd go in my truck and trailer, mostly because of gas mileage. Donna's diesel gets something like 5 meters to the gallon, so when possible we opt for our truck. I ran through my check list:

Clean Horse:


Er... uncheck. SMOKEY! Durn it!

Hey! What's the big deal?
I only rolled on one side this time!

Mexican trailer Jack:

Two new tires:
Check! Next month we'll get the other two.

I filled up the tank and was driving back home when I checked in Donna about departure time. That's when she told me she was taking Cloud.

Cloud? I said, a little surprised. Cloud is a terrific horse, but he's a HUGE Missouri Fox Trotter. Easily 16 hands, maybe more. Shoulders like a draft horse. "Do you think he'll fit in my trailer?"

Here's the trailer, which we used to go to NM last year.

The back load area of the trailer is bigger than the front, but a horse has to know to position itself to get it's hindquarters in. It's actually roomy, but with no rails to guide it into position I've had trouble with horses loading there. I wasn't sure how this was going to go.

"He'll be fine. He's really easy going," she said.

I imagined a scene from a movie where the big hockey player tries to sit in the elementary school chair while meeting with the teacher. As I recalled, it didn't go well.

I woke up at dark thirty, dropped the kids off with my mom, said bye to DH who was off on a motorcycle trip. I was at the barn right on time and proceeded to load a few last minute things in the trailer. Donna had already fed the horses, and we got ready to load.

Smokey was a little tough to load (again), and I had to wave off help. I'm going to load him repeatedly this week to get this tied down again. But after two attempts, he was in.

Then it was Cloud's turn.

Cloud took one look at the trailer and turned into a giraffe. Part giraffe and part hippo butt.

I'd never seen Donna not eventually get a horse in a trailer.

Until Saturday.

Cloud wigged out, to put it politely. I was there to try to apply pressure where directed. It was completely ineffective. Twice he knocked into Donna. Once knocked her on the ground. Three times he reared on his way out of the trailer (which was quite majestic, although a little scary given his size. 15-20 minutes of this and it was clear. We weren't getting anywhere.

A little about Cloud. He's Donna's hubby's horse. He gets ridden very little. He only rides (as far as I've seen) in her large 4 horse trailer. He'd been getting bratty, which was part of her reason for getting him out. Also she'd just sold her endurance horse and her horse in training had a pulled groin muscle.

As for Cloud, there was no way he was getting into the little two horse. It was time for plan B. We moved everything over to her trailer, and after a moment, loaded both in the 4 horse. We were running way behind, but still within the window of time needed.


We got to Storm Ranch through the back way, a way I hadn't gone before. There was a fork in the road and we ended up taking the wrong fork and had to turn around, going back through very narrow, very bumpy cattle guards. After we crossed the second one, I heard a weird noise from the back of the truck.

As I turned to ask Donna what that sound was my mouth dropped. There was the trailer, passing us like an errant ocean liner, headed for the side of the road.

"The trailer - it's passing us!" I said, helpfully stating the obvious.

I watched in horror as it glided by us, heading for a set of oak trees.

To be continued...

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


On Monday, the horse dentist was back out for re-checks. This is what I love about Loren. Every horse she works on gets a free re-check one month later. And while she checks them, she does little adjustments.

Lily has still been sore in the shoulder, and after working on her mouth a bit (lily has teeth that are growing in toward her tongue and require a little more work) we went out to the driveway. She watched her move and adjusted her hips. Lily licked and chewed, and dropped her head. She gave me exercises to do, then encouraged me to get Lily out into the round pen.

Work her bad side too, she said.

I don't work with Lily much, never felt we had much of a connection. But as we worked in the round pen, keeping it simple, I could feel that shift.

Lily has what I think of as a classic quarter horse personality. Willing, but all business. She would be the woman who would listen to a joke, smile and then ask if there was anything else, because she had some things to get done.

As she moved around, enjoying the soft ground of the round pen, she checked in with me. Usually you have to remind her that yes, you are in charge. Not this time.

Things shifted. We were moving together. I passed the wand to my other hand and she turned in. I lowered my energy, she came down to a walk. At one point she trotted, following me, backed up and spun, all at liberty, all in sync.

Then Smokey and I did the same. I didn't want to ride since we had done a 10 mile training ride the day before, and I wanted to focus on just enjoying the moment with my horse.

So I danced with two horses (not at once), both at liberty, both in sync with my every move.

In writing this I can still feel the peace of it, and marvel at how such a simple, yet improbable thing can be so powerful so as to stop time, and suspend you above all things.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Problem with Cantering

Everything was going pretty smooth. Smokey and I have had increasing success turning at the canter. Then I saw it.

A dry spot. Walk around to the other side. Oh goodie. A matching one.

My little colt is growing up. And all this crazy cantering is bulking up those shoulders, apparently.

Here's the horse I bought.

Here's the horse I have now.
Not only did he change colors, he's shaped different!

Thanks A LOT, Trail Rider. I *had* a perfectly standard QH bar sized horse. But no, you had to get me cantering and NOW look at him. Lord only knows what kind of tree he needs now. (I swear, if he needs a gaited tree I'm going to kick myself. Hard)

Speaking of which, Smokey turns six this month. I decided to give him a nice bath and shampoo him up, inspired by the rather intense day over at Brown Eyed Cowgirl (between her and Mickey, I'm worn out just reading). Look at him. Isn't he shiny?

Isn't the hay in the mane thing adorable?

But honestly. I don't know why I even bother.

Smokey: You know, I think I'm still clean on the right side...

Me: Oh geez. I can't look. I knew I should have tied him up.

Lily: I told you he's impossible.