Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Nursery rhyme time

I took my horses to the vet,
Their coggins I was there to get.

Two horses load in without a fit,
My carrot stick not needed a bit.

We drive, we drive, we drive some more,
I hold my purse close and pass the tack store.

Then we stop in the gravel drive,
Two horses have made it here alive.

I open the door and one steps out,
Quiet and calm, without a doubt.

The other horse nods and does the same,
You'd think the pair was completely sane.

Two quick pokes, they didn't blink an eye
Then one and two load without a sigh.

Back at home both step quietly out,
Leaving me little doubt.

Days this drama free are sweet and dear,
And worthy of posting here.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Outside My Comfort Zone Part 2

Smokey was also in a quiet space, but I found him sticky at the canter in the round pen. Really sticky. As in "I'm not going to canter, so there."

We descended into a brief argument until I realized it was headed in the wrong direction. Raising my "voice" to Smokey doesn't work. For example, I tried snapping my rein ends on him to push him into the canter. You would have thought I attempted to brand him. He became frazzled and pissy, in a sense matching my irritation, I suppose.

I haven't quite found the right line to push my point with him. There's a firmness that has to settle in place, and then he'll listen. But I can't quite hit it consistently.

We were arguing and I said "No battles today, Smokey. Let's just get this done." I brought my energy down, shifted my mind. We settled back down to a walk trot transition until it was smooth again, then I cued for the canter. And he cantered.

So why couldn't we do that from the start? I have no clue, that's what I mean by missing it somehow. Maybe he needed time, but seriously, at this point, he needs to be less... diva.

We hit the local trails, and I was inspired to do a little of the things I saw on "America's Favorite Trail Horse." I found a few obstacles including a new log. At first Smokey shied at it a bit, but after some repetition we were going over it at the trot with no hesitation. It wasn't a jump, but as close as I'm ready to attempt (given I don't know anything about jumping other that what I see on TV).

Then I took him down the route I took Lily earlier. Smokey wasn't as hesitant - he's a little better about going out on his own. THE HOUSE was still a hurdle, but not nearly as bad as with Lily. He was a little high headed, but we got through it pretty well. We even had two cars pass us and ran into Stephanie coming back from her crazy graveyard shift at the emergency vet clinic.

We were on our way back when something by THE HOUSE caught his eye. I could feel his energy rise. I gathered the reins and started to have him dosome work when whatever caught his eye really moved - and so did he. He spun and headed back the way we came. But this time, this time I was ready. I had already gathered the reins. I steered him back around, stopping him under two trees.

I had controlled the bolt and stopped him! I urged him over to the spot he had turned, but he was blowing. I dismounted and walked him through the area over and over, he followed me readily on a loose rein. On the fifth time I lead him back to the place where it all started and got back on.

And I rode him past THE HOUSE. Calmly, with a smile.

We had a good walk back to the barn, meeting up with Stephanie who had gone over to say hi to Cibolo. She brought an apple, but Smokey doesn't like them for some reason. (He will *sometimes* eat a carrot. But cattle calling cubes are his real addiction.)

This time I felt like I didn't let Smokey down. I rode through the situation, was ready, responded appropriately, didn't let fear own me. Had he bolted to the barn I'm not sure I could have stopped him, but really who knows... Maybe I would have. Afterall he could have kept going, period. In the end I think this experience gave us both something we really needed.

Faith in one another.

Outside my Comfort Zone Part 1

On Saturday I pushed my comfort zone. Usually on my first ride of the weekend I keep it pretty quiet and safe. Round pen, arena, local trails.

But I decided to start with Lily and she was so quiet and calm I thought it would be a good day to get her past THE HOUSE. The house is close to the road, with thick trees across the street. It's got many odd shapes and things around it, and at one point there were chickens that would squawk.

Clearly many horses are eaten right in that spot. You can tell by all the horse hoof marks spinning.

We did start with a warm up. In the round pen Lily was rushing at the canter, but we rode through to quieter transitions. Something about that experience made me realize my confidence has actually risen despite my lake adventure. Maybe because of the way Smokey and I ended our adventure; a trainer told me (was it Rashid? I don't remember) how you end your time with your horse has the same effect on the horse as how you feel when you end a date. If the last five minutes are great, that's what you retain about the guy..

Lily and I hit the familiar trails and then made our way to THE HOUSE. I'd ridden by it with Lily when I was with BO and one of her training horses, and had just a slight hesitation. But now we were alone. Lily was solid in our regular trail, but now we were outside her comfort zone. Riding alone, riding far from the herd.

She balked by backing up. I turned her and encouraged her forward. We did these little spirals for a while - walking forward, stopping, backing up, turning, walking forward, stopping, backing up, turning, walking forward. But soon we were past the most concerning area, and made our way further down the road. I stopped at the point I felt was two steps beyond her edge and we stood there for a bit. She was anxious, but listened.

We turned back to the barn, with only one spot where she attempted to break into a trot, but quickly responded to my cue.

All of this was bitless, in her riding halter, the one I used with Canyon way back when (the company I ordered it from went out of business, but I found them here on line and plan on ordering one for Christmas).

I was so proud of Lily, she's never liked riding solo and now is doing so well I am thrilled.

Next up, Smokey. Which was pretty good, except for the brief bolt...

Friday, September 23, 2011

Learning from bad days

I appreciate the supportive comments about my escapade with Smokey.


This horse journey for me is about learning from my mistakes. I'm not beating myself up, I just need to learn what I shoulda'.

In the event that these lessons are helpful to others, here is what I would have done different.

1. When I learned they were running late I should have had a plan B. I have noticed that horses know the minute you don't know what to do. I did take him to the street to do some work, and if I'd kept doing some deliberate work, that would have helped.

2. I should have changed him into his working halter. The web halter was not sending a message, it just became a tug of war. He never pulled completely away, but it was harder than it needed to be.

3. Correct the rear immediately. Nuf said.

4. Not spend so much time in the water. He is a good water horse, but we should have cut our time there in half.

5. Someone asked if I was lunging him. Not in terms of mindless circles. More like giving him a chance to move since that's how he releases anxiety. And refocusing. Yes he goes in a circle, but it's about turning ear and eye to me, not wearing down. I'd like to have a longer lead line for these moments.

6. Check my emotions more to not let my frustration build. Shake it off quicker. I'm going to get aggravated. But I can work on getting back to balance sooner.

I did many things right. Most importantly we ended in a very solid place. The next two days we had terrific rides. We will see what's next.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Bastrop Fire Update

The fire in Bastrop is 95% contained. The very day I went swimming with Smokey (and locked myself out of the truck and trailer, and had that weird moment where suddenly everything was... right) there was another fire at the lake, near our barn. Fortunately it was put out quickly. I've never heard of so many fires in our area starting for no rhyme or reason.

This post by Sarah at Halt Near X does a great job of summing up the situation in Texas. As does the word dire.

This video by Raymond Schlogel,a camera man who shoots for Larry Gaitlan, was so compelling, I had to post it here. There is a scene, about midway through, of horses who are running on the road, loose, running from the fire or its remains. Or maybe they have no where to go home to.

Texas Fires/Alpha Rev - Black Sky from Underground Planet on Vimeo.

If you get a chance, read his description of filming that day.

Texas sure could use a hurricane.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Well THAT didn't go well... Part 2

Ground tie. Yes, sometimes he can ground tie.
It's a work in progress.

I pulled out my chair from the trailer, grabbed my cooler, got a little organized. Smokey had his hay bag.

I decided to walk him over to the road area that leads into the parking lot. One of my goals is to work with him on pavement every chance I get since it seems to make him (me) nervous. He was perfect, lead nicely, looked about but didn't get worried.

We headed back to the trailer. Still no sign of the BO and B. I tied him to the trailer and tried to settle down to eat a little. I changed into something suitable for swimming. Still nobody.

How long does it take your horse to unravel? It took mine about 10 minutes of waiting. Then he was a fish on a line, twirling around, convinced that the other horses should be here.

I had to agree. I needed to give him something to do, something to focus on. And me too.

I decided that we'd go swimming. They'd be there soon, and could meet us in the water.

I locked my cell phone and truck keys in the trailer tack room and headed for the lake. Smokey was a little less well behaved, so we corrected here and there. His head was high, he was looking for others, calling once or twice. We entered the water and he was initially doing well.

Then he began pawing at the water. Then pulling on the rope. I only had him in his web halter (mistake number 3 of about 79) and had trouble making my messages convincing. Then it happened.

It was the thing that if I was a more knowledgeable horse woman, someone who understood young horses better, I would have nipped in the bud. He gave the tiniest rear.

Honestly, it was just beautiful and that's part of the reason I didn't think of correcting it. Then came the head moves in the water, and a second, bigger rear.

Don't get me wrong, he was never in danger of falling over, nor was he rearing "at" me, but he was definitely doing this as a show of strength. Not to me, I believe, my sense was it was more of a display meant for anyone who might dare come to eat him.

Right about then I decided to get us out of the water. I'd tried to ride him in the water, but he was too headstrong, too full of himself – in a bad way. He seemed to blank out about me for moments, I reminded him that I was there. He was that frazzled.

We walked out of the water – I turned him twice when he got ahead of me – and we headed back to the trailer. Still no sign of the BO or B.

That's it, we're leaving, I thought to myself. I secured him to the trailer, stepped in to get a manure fork to clean it out, and shut the tack room door. As I was shoveling out manure I saw him rear – again – as he was tied.

That's it! I thought, my last shred of patience gone. I gave him an immediate verbal correction and headed out to do some circles. He was a mess, but eventually got two braincells focused on me. I re-tied him and went to put up the manure fork.

Which is when I discovered that the tack room door was locked. I checked down at my pocket. It was flapped open and a quick check showed there was no key there.

Seriously? I'd lost it during our brief lead line lunging? And how did the door even lock? I was so pleased that I couldn't accidentally lock the tack room door because it requires the key to lock it. Yet I was so gifted that I somehow managed this feat.

And my cell phone?

In the tack room. Cuz, you know, it's safer in there.

Now who was frazzled?

I seemed to remember I'd beeped opened the truck, so I checked the doors. The passenger doors were still locked, but the drivers side was open. I started rummaging for the extra key. Gone. With all the recent moves we were constantly moving keys around.

We have a hidden key, though. I grabbed a dirty towel from the back and lay it on the ground under the truck. Well, now we know why we call it hidden. I sure as heck couldn't find it.

I attempted not to hyperventilate.

I looked back at the tack room door. It has a window. Maybe I could break it, I'd hung the keys on a hook inside the door, surely I could reach them. Fortunately I hadn't locked the window from the inside, and I was able to slide it open and punch out the screen.

I reached down blindly and touched the knob for the door. I figured that this door would have some sort of safety built in so you couldn't lock yourself inside. Sure enough, the knob slid , and the door was open.

See the round knob? I love that round knob.

No sign of the tack room key, but big deal, I already figured out how to break into it anyway. I quickly grabbed my truck keys and cell phone and put them in the checked-three-times,-yes-it's- unlocked truck. Now, to load Smokey.

I don't even have to tell you this part, right? He refused to load. Right about then the BO and B showed up, looking like they'd had a heck of a ride themselves. (they did).

“Will he not load?” the BO called out.

“Oh, he's going to load.” I said. Shortly there after he did, without any help from anyone else (my lone source of pride at that point).

I drove back as rain started to hit my windshield. I was so disappointed, I'd made choices that day that set us back, way back. What was I doing with a five year old horse? I had no clue. I let him unravel because I couldn't see it coming. I bit back the thought that I shouldn't actually have this horse. It's a mental road I've driven many times, thinking I don't "deserve" this horse. I'm over that now.

When championship reiners are being left to starve, I have no illusions that somehow the fact I'm not a top level trainer and dressage rider is a horrible fate for Smokey. Frankly, I'm of the mind that we are both just going to have to deal with our mutual shortcomings. I'll work on mine, he'll work on his, we'll get somewhere because I'm too stubborn not to get somewhere.

At the barn I unloaded him and took him to the round pen. We had a brief session. He listened well after some quick turns. But I knew we still weren't ending this on this note. He needed to get back in the trailer.

Before you think I was totally insane, remember, we are in an extreme fire danger zone, even a day of rain won't cure that. I can't have a horse who won't load.

And we were not ending on a good note. He was going through the motions, but he wasn't connecting with me.

We had another battle at the trailer. He wouldn't come near it, acted like he had no idea where I wanted him to go when I was trying to line lunge him. This is a horse who will change direction in the round pen with a slight movement of my shoulders.

I finally got a glimmer of cooperation. He turned in the direction I asked. We went back to the trailer. He put a hoof in, then back out. I turned him once and went back to the trailer and stood there with him, dropping my head.

“Come on Smokey. We're way past this, we know how to do this,” I said softly.

And he jumped in the trailer.

I stepped in after him. He stood in place, his eyes still wide, but something coming back into them, something I was surprised to see.

The only way I can describe it is it was that look your child gets when they drop the tough guy act and they are there, your kid again. Accepting of your help. Accepting of your role. Letting go.

We stood in the trailer together for a minute. Maybe two. Neither one of us asking to leave. Then I stepped away and said “back.” He calmly stepped back and I walked him back to his paddock and the rain went from a sprinkle to a gentle steady fall.

When I got home to get cleaned up I found the trailer key. It was stuck in my pocket.

I had apparently not dug deep enough.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Well THAT didn't go well... Part 1

Things did not go well.

In fact, it was pretty much a disaster. Fortunately, for once, I kept my perspective. Not completely, but darn near.

But let's start at the beginning. On Friday the trainer/BO suggest I join her at the lake for a morning ride. I declined. I knew she was taking her endurance riding client out there and they had been working on conditioning the new Qua-Arab in the barn.

I've been really enjoying my horse time, but sticking to my comfort zone around the barn. Both horses are doing well, we are all having a good time, drama is low.

So riding with two experience endurance riders who will be on horses who have been in training for weeks sounds like a bad idea to me. I'd be on the greenest horse, who I hadn't ridden in a week – and last week with all the changes in our lives with DH, I'd only ridden once. No thanks.

“Just join us for a swim, then. You can come out and meet us afterwards and swim with Smokey.”

Hmm. That sounded doable. We'd haul over to the lake which would be good, meet them, maybe hand walk around, then swim, then go home. Minimal. So I agreed.

That night I packed my lunch with my nerves barely contained, attempting to decide between an orange and trail mix, as if picking the wrong item would throw off my rhythm.

I ended up taking both.

I was out at the barn a little later than usual on Saturday to feed since DH was home and we were hanging out a bit. Rain had finally fallen in San Antonio and we were hopefully that a few drops would head our way. Clouds surrounded us, a welcome gray shade, the smell of damp earth in the air. I wondered if the weather would impact the horses' moods.

I pulled into the barn and set to work to quickly grained the horses I knew they'd be taking – Jake, the Qua-Arab bought from the auction, Tuffy, the BO's latest horse and just about the sweetest, calmest arab I've ever met, and Rocky, the other bay arab (also a sweet horse, but with many soundness issues). I was just starting on graining my horses when BO and the Client, B, arrived. We talked through the plan – I'd call about 11 then head out to meet them. By then I'd have Smokey warmed up, maybe we'd ride in the parking area, then swim and have lunch.

Then I saw a bad scrape on Smokey's knee.

BO checked it, and agreed it was fairly minor, something he must have picked up when they were running loose in the pasture area. I would treat it with a water therapy and decided if he showed any signs of lameness at all we'd call it off.

They loaded up after a while and I focused on feeding the remaining horses. I hooked up my truck to the trailer, triple checking everything since it had been so long since I'd hauled anywhere. Then I got Smokey saddled up and Lily haltered.

I worked Lily in the round pen and rode bareback. We worked on cleaning up our side pass to the gate. It gets better every time. I've grown so close to this mare, and she has so much try it's challenging to not over ask. We're getting the hang of each other.

Then I rode Smokey in the round pen. Not a bit of lameness in the leg. In fact I was surprised to find him quiet and responsive given how little we'd ridden lately. It was as if we weren't missing a lick. It looked like this was going to be a great day to take a step forward.

He's already getting his grulla coat on.

I took Lily back to have hay with the others and rode Smokey out on the trails. He was perfect. Quiet. Listening. We curved around bushes and trees, up gentle slopes, everything went so well. The swim would be a reward, I decided. A nice topper to a good day.

I called the BO a little later than the time we'd set up. She said they were running late, but to head on out. Smokey loaded easily and we headed out to the lake.

When we pulled into the parking lot I was a little concerned with the number of trailers in place. I thought the BO said no one was there, but maybe they arrived after they had hit the trails. I unloaded Smokey and he was pretty good. A bit up, but not bad at all.

Unfortunately it was a condition that wouldn't last.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Off Topic - Crib Notes Mega Monday

Some Mondays are more Monday than other Mondays.
Some Mondays you carefully plan your entire day to make it to an appointment in San Antonio and arrive five minutes early! That is, five minutes early for the time you carefully wrote down. Which is the wrong time. The one hour wrong time.
I tried to think of myself as only 55 minutes late, but it was cold comfort on the long drive back home.
My fate Monday was sealed early on. Right around 4:30 am I glanced at the clock and noted that yes, the alarm was set, and yes, I had another hour and a half to sleep.
Unfortunately ignorance is sleep inducing. My dreams were so optimistic, consisting of all the things I was going to get done later in the day. I felt positively productive when I woke up, until I glanced over and realized I was an hour behind, because although my alarm had gone off, it had done so silently.
Only I would keep an alarm that goes off silently. Granted, it isn’t designed to go off silently, but it has a sticky button that every now and then changes the volume from dream shattering to dream extending. I keep thinking I’ll remember to double check it and it won’t be a problem.
And now it won’t be. That clock is off to a nice big land fill.
Mireya got a tardy slip at school, the first day they were giving them out. She gave me that look as she took possession of the slip. That “you have totally ruined my reputation with the new principal” look. I encouraged her to have a good day despite the rocky start. She refrained from rolling her eyes, but just barely.
The spirit of Mega Monday continued. I tried to drop off books to donate at the library. The box they were in was falling apart, but after some careful stacking I managed to struggle over to the Friends of the Library store doorway. Only to find that the Friends of the Library are closed on Mondays.
Smart cookies, those Friends of the Library.
I managed to get my books back to the truck without dropping them on my foot. Some times fate has a little bit of sympathy. Not enough sympathy to keep the other box from falling over when I opened the door, but enough to keep everything really heavy inside the truck.
All I can say is thank goodness it’s Thursday. 

(Do you enjoy these? The ebook collection will be out in a month! )

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fire and Hay

Imagine that it's been the worst drought in recent memory. That hay is hard to find, but somehow you managed to get enough hay into your barn to tide you through. It's not quite enough, but you are hopeful you'll be able to make it last.

Then imagine the worst fire in Texas history.

The horse folk in Bastrop are going to have a tough time of it for a thousand reasons, and while hay isn't the biggest one, it's certainly one we all know about.

The Heart of Texas Morgan Horse Club here is raising donations for hay. I know these folks and every dime will go to getting those affected hay to feed horses that have been evacuated. If you would like to make a donation, they are accepting paypal (and checks) contributions here.

Any little bit you might be able to spare will help. Thanks for considering...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Quick Update - Fire still burning - and a mixed blessing

image from KUT News - shot at a livestock auction

At last report 1554 houses have been lost. People are living in hotels, kids are getting back to school today with school buses picking them up at the grocery store. Last I heard, everyone I know has evacuated their animals. But here's a story about a woman who lost one horse, but her mare survived somehow, with burns over half her body (click here, but warning, the video shows the mare, "hell bitch", recovering and is tough to see).

image from KCENTV

The fire is 60% contained, 34,000 acres have been burned and two people lost their lives. The drought is refusing to let up and the only chance for rain is Sunday. Hopefully the wind will stay quiet and they can stop this fire - the worst we've ever had in Texas.

image from the Austin American Statesman


Life around here has undergone another change, a mixed blessing. My husband found a good job and it looks like we'll be on the road to recovery from our own kind of drought.

Here's the mixed part. The job is in Ft. Worth. Fortunately the company I work for is based in Dallas, and they would likely welcome me there. In six months we'll be assessing whether or not it makes sense to move, at least temporarily. I don't want to move, but I don't want my kids to have a weekend Dad either.

Still, this IS a great blessing, he's very happy and feeling so much better about himself. Not working is harder on men, IMHO, because so much of their self worth is tied to being "a provider." I'm so glad he found what is, for him, a dream job.

But this is really going to limit my horse time since I've lost 50% of my support system here at home. Somehow we'll get through, but if you have any tips, I'd love to hear them. And if you know anyone who might rent a horse property in the area around May 2012, I may be in the market...


Smokey and Lily are doing well, and send their regards to all of the e-herd out there.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Fire update - a bit of good news

Our friend got her horse out - the horses headed out to a different area where they were able to access the herd from another road in time. I've heard from others that they aren't doing so well. Evacuations continue.

The big fire still rages out of control. Firefighters are working, now more than 50 hours straight.

Here at the lake, we are safe. But here's a video showing how quick it can change (this was a beautiful park, a real jewel in this area that has been a goal of mine to ride at. Now, it's 90% gone.).

Interactive map of the fires is available here.

I was hoping without the big winds it would be out by now. But after watching that video I realize that we are just one giant tinderbox.

I find myself even missing the mosquitoes which have been non existent this summer. Because there is no standing water anywhere.

This would be a good time for a miracle.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Hill Country is on fire

The view from our barn - our barn owner snapped this picture

We are safe, as are our horses. But several members of our extended herd are not. Our friends in Bastrop have successfully evacuated their horses and those of a neighboring ranch and when I last checked in they were working on moving the residents of the Bastrop Zoo/Rescue. A bear and a tiger are part of that zoo.

A friend in another area couldn't get to her five year old horse at a boarding facility before they closed the roads down. The barn owner there said they just opened the gates, hoping the horses will out run the flames. I can't imagine how horrible both the barn owner and the horse owner must feel right now.

Of course it's not all about horses. At this point 500 homes are lost and the fire is not contained in Bastrop. We had two flare ups at the lake where we live but they were put down quickly.

It's bone dry, and while it's cooling, it's still a crazy tinderbox.

I wish it would rain.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Two photos

I wanted to take a picture of Smokey and I, just standing around. I didn't want to pull his face to me, because I felt a nice closeness, a nice peacefulness that I wanted to capture. Even though it's not a flattering photo of me, I thought I'd post it...

Then he leaned into me. Then I knew I'd post it. Happy Labor Day!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Detective work in the barn

I have a curious horse.

I think a curious horse is a good thing and occasionally a dangerous or annoying thing. But most of the time it's an amusing thing. Until they lock you in the feed room like Carson's horse Lyle did - anybody remember that?

Anywho, Smokey is a curious horse and very lippy. Like Lyle, I think.

I had left him tied near the tack room in the barn alley and went to get Lily. I heard the sound of things falling. I was surprised when I walked into the tack room to find this on the floor.

Smokey looked surprised to see me.

He offered to help pick up.

But only if I'd move the cookie jar closer.

(See that roundish white container just out of reach? That's the cookie jar)

Now we tie Smokey on the other side - near the feed room door. Somehow I'm not sure that's a good idea either.