Sunday, December 30, 2012


Maybe it's just in my head, or based on the suggestions of the psychic, but I feel like Ashke and I are closer now than we were a week ago. I feel like we understand each other a little bit better. I feel safer on him now and he feels like he is being more careful with his mouth. He is also getting better at communicating what he needs or wants to both J and I. It has been really amazing to experience.

J wants me to teach him to bow. Worthy of a Prince. It should be fun to try.

Yesterday, we did a couple hours at the barn. I got the bitless bridle in the mail on Friday, but I wasn't able to try it on him because of the barn party. I have to say that I wasn't real excited about the bitless bridle, when I first saw it. It was made of rubber-pretend-leather. I hated how it felt. Now, I know some of my hesitancy is based on knowing I have a side-pull that I and Ashke both like a lot. I tried it on Ashke yesterday and didn't like how it looked or fit. The cross straps crossed under his chin and they didn't slide well through the side rings. I didn't even ride him in it. I think that although I ordered the small size, it still didn't fit his head well. I am sending it back and buying the sidepull.

We were there with Nicole, who was doing a dressage lesson with Margaret, a trainer at the barn. They were focused on getting Cali to take her right lead and trying to figure out what is going on with her. I just rode. Ashke is much more receptive to commands in the sidepull. It's pretty amazing. We were trying to work on him lowering his head and flexing at the poll, but honestly, the boy just wants to go with his head up and his ears forward. He also wants to go fast. Nice, fast swinging walk. Fast trot. Faster canter, although his canter to the left was smooth and steady, his canter to the right is still rocky and rough. We are working on it.

Ashke started something new yesterday. While we were working in the arena, there were a lot of other horses in there. Ashke, who has never been aggressive or shown dominance, has started to behave in an aggressive and dominant way. Every time we went by a chestnut or another gelding, Ashke would pin his ears, swish his tail and try to go after the other horse. Completely out of character. In fact, he kicked out at them as we went past them. Four or five incidents and I was done in the indoor arena. There were also 8 horses, counting us, in the arena and I wanted some space. We went outside.

I figure we rode outside for 30 minutes or so. Ashke loves riding out to the Mesa and has absolutely no issues with riding out just the two of us. He listened really well in the sidepull and we even had a short canter up the first hillside, which I curtailed pretty quick since there was snow on the ground and I couldn't see where the rocks were. I didn't want him to hurt a fetlock, or slip on the snow. He goes great without shoes and was very sure footed.

I forgot to start the app on my phone until we were already 10 minutes out or so. I figure the ride was almost 30 minutes and about 1.5 miles. I think he could have gone a lot farther, but didn't want to push it since we were having such a good day.

You can see that I started the app late. Next time I want to cross the wooden bridge just to the left of where we turned back and continue on around the housing development. Then meet up with the higher trail and circle back. I'm hoping the next time out I will be able to ride for 3 miles or so.

He was so strong on this ride. He didn't slip or hesitate on his right haunch. He was very interested in trotting and at one point, we did a brief canter. On the way back, we did a prancing trot down the hill. The only issue was all the rocks he kept shying at. Silly boy.


This frame should have looked more like a bell curve, if I had remembered to turn on the app before I left the barn. We started and stopped at the same elevation.

J and T went up on the Mesa, so I wasn't entirely alone, but they didn't go far because of J's footwear.

Ashke was very comfortable, listened well and seemed to really enjoy the ride. He loves being out, even in the snow and cold, and goes great with his head up and his ears forward. He's just not going to be a dressage horse or western pleasure show horse. He is going to be a wild and free trail horse.

Just what I wanted.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Reason to Love

TMR number 206 . . .

As a parent, it is always a balancing act between spending time with my horse and spending time with my kid. T is an awesome almost thirteen-year-old with a great sense of humor, an unbelievable love of animals, and a deep sense of adventure. He loves being outdoors, riding bikes, geocaching, hiking and climbing. He has tentatively expressed interest in horseback riding. Unfortunately, his idea of riding is to jump on and go and so far he's not all that interested in grooming, taking care of, or any part of horsemanship that isn't galloping off into the sunset. We have proposed that he take lessons, but so far, he's uncommitted.

I heard rumors that one of the parents at the barn is going to start a 4-H horse group. We would love for T to be part of 4-H. I loved it as a kid and think it would be awesome for him to be involved in. Unfortunately, I don't think Ashke is a good fit for a raw beginner. (And honestly, I don't want to share.) I have also heard rumors that Jean is looking for a part time lease on one of her horses, which usually includes riding lessons, and might be a good fit for T. I am going to talk to her and Rachel about 4-H and at least the possibility.

So, back to the balancing act . . . . One of the primary reasons we left Christensen's was because, although they stated they encouraged children to be there, they reallywere not welcoming. The owners were taking steps to discourage and eliminate any young riders at the barn. They kicked out the therapeutic riding school that had been working out of that barn for seven years, they implemented a new rule right before we left that anyone under the age of 18 had to be supervised while riding. And they complained about T. The owners were doing everything they could to remove kids from the premises.

Last night was TMR's Holiday party. There were about 40 people or so there. It was obvious that they all knew each other, and about half were under the age of 16. Instead of being upset that there were kids there, the barn manager had specifically invited the kids. They had gingerbread decorating kits for the kids to do, we did a gift exchange, the kids played chase in the indoor arena, and they had a silly string fight afterwards. This was all accepted, encouraged and indulged. Granted, T was the only boy, but he seemed to have a great time and didn't have an issue hanging out with the girls. More importantly, not only were kids invited, but there were things for the kids to do. It really was very kid focused. 

So nice to be someplace where T feels welcome and comfortable.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

More Treats

. . . whereupon I talk to a psychic about Ashke and make a breakthrough on the bitless bridle.

Talking to the psychic, a woman named Danielle who offers communication between humans and their pets/animals based here in Colorado, was my Christmas gift from J and T. Diane, the chiropractor, recommended we contact her and see what Ashke had to say. J and I decided it was important to see if this would help in deepening the relationship between Ashke and I. I scheduled the conversation, which takes place over the phone, for yesterday afternoon. I was pretty skeptical, but at the end of the conversation, I was pretty sold on her ability.

Now, mind you, I am a fairly strong believer in psychic ability, in spirits, in the unseen world that surrounds us. It is one of my beliefs I've carried since I was a child. Living with unseen guests in our home has only strengthened and deepened my belief. However, I was pretty skeptical of her ability to communicate with Ashke through a picture. Not so skeptical any more. It was a pretty amazing conversation.

Top things to take away from the conversation:
     10. Ashke is not damaged mentally. He sees himself as strong and healthy and likes what we are doing. He knew he wasn't supposed to stay with Steve and was waiting for his person.
     9. Hates the bit. Both of them. Wants to try going bitless.
     8. Sees himself as very fast. Wants to race. Wants to gallop. Wants to go. Wants to do long distance racing. Sees himself crossing finish lines.
     7. Sees me as a fruit loop (or the psychic's interpretation of the image). Round with a hole in the middle. Wanted me to know he doesn't want me to fall off, he is trying to help me stay on.
     6. Identified his right hip as having a bone bruise and tightness in the hamstring. He said he fell, on accident. Reassured me he usually is really great on his feet. Also identified a spot four fingers above the fetlock on the right hind leg where the tendon is very tight. (Feels like a splint happened there. Gave it some attention last night.) He told me the right hamstring is being agravated by a "wrinkled" muscle along his ribs that's tied up over his right flank.
     5. Misses spending time with me. He blames the cold and dark winter months for my not being able to be at the barn as much. Unfortunately, I can't really fix this while T is in school. I need to be at home helping with homework, listening to trombone practice, hanging out with my son.
    4. Does not want me petting any other mares. He feels a very strong sense of loyalty to me and wants me to feel the same for him. Seems to think I am planning on replacing him with a mare. Assured him I am not.
     3. Hates being dirty. Was very thankful that the first thing we did was clean him up. He loves his color and wants to be seen as beautiful.
     2. Loves his mane cut short. Hated the long tangles it had. This amused the psychic, who though most Arabians would prefer their manes long. He does want the ends evened up though. J is willing to oblige.
     1. Wants more treats. Said this several times. Wants to play games and be rewarded with treats. Won't bite. Wants more treats. Licks my hands and my clothes as a show of affection, the way a mare licks her foal.Wants me to understand he is being affectionate, not mean.

He also said he wants me to talk to him outloud. He likes hearing what I want from him. I should always give the commands verbally. He said he is very smart and very mature. He trusts me and loves to follow me around. He asked that I walk him around the arena a couple of times before getting on him to ride (I've done this in the past, but haven't been consistent.) He says he likes it because it gives us a chance to get in tune with each other. He knows I have a medical issue with my lower back and is trying to help me fix it. I asked him to be patient while I am regaining strength there.

Last night, in response to his request, I moved back to the first bit I used. While I was doing that I was talking to Denise, owner of Wrangler who loves to trail ride, and asked her what she rode in. She said she used a sidepull, since Wrangler hated the bitless bridle cheek pressure. She said she had an extra one I could try, if I wanted, since it was way too small for Wrangler's head (he's Morgan and has a huge head). I told her that would be awesome, if she didn't mind. She brought it to the arena and I traded out the bit when I saw her.


He was light and responsive and didn't fight the pressure much. The only issue we had was when I asked him to back up it took him a moment to understand what I wanted, but then he ducked his head and backed right up. Denise offered to sell me the sidepull and I'm definitely going to take her up on it. I want to try the bitless bridle I bought just to compare, but am leaning toward sending it back. Denise said I could use the sidepull until the other one came in and she would sell it to me cheap if I wanted it. Going to pay her for it the next time I see her.

We galloped a lot last night, on the correct lead and everything, and I worked on getting my body to do what I wanted it to do. Still struggling. It will get better and he won't call me a fruit loop any more.

Didn't bite at my pants when I got on him.

He also got lots of treats.

Can't wait to ride out on the trail on Saturday to see  how the bitless bridle works for him. And we have a Christmas party on Friday night at the barn, so that should be exciting too.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Bit vs Bitless

Ashke and I have a problem.

I have tried on several occasions to ride in the arena without the running martingale and have ended up stopping and putting it back on. Whenever I try to ride without it, his head comes up, he's fighting my hands, his mouth is gaping open and I feel like I have zero control. The problem with the martingale is that he still does those things, but they happen with his head down and tucked against his chest. Because he is fighting the bit, he ends up clenching his jaw and running faster, braced against the bit and not listening any more. Or maybe my signals are confusing. I'm not sure which, I just know I hate how it feels.

I think he does too.

I rode a lot with a mechanical hackamore when I was a kid. Queenie worked in it really well and was responsive to the commands. I preferred to be off her mouth for the majority of the time, and it was so much better than trying to introduce an ice-cold bit into her mouth during the winter. I didn't start to use the hackamore until she was proficient at neck-reining and I couldn't show her in the hackamore, but she seemed to prefer it for regular riding.

I've been thinking about using something similar for Ashke. I am not nearly soft enough on his mouth and I think he is super sensitive to pressure, all of which does not bode well to increasing his give while I am riding him. It ends up making him fight against the bit and lessens my control. The last thing I want to do is increase the pressure or pain in his bars and tongue, instead I am thinking of going bitless. A lot of endurance riders use bitless bridles, and in some cases, are riding bridleless. I would still school him in the arena to make sure we understood each other and he understood my requests (commands), but I think we both would be happy for me to be off his mouth.

Just like when his saddle was bothering him and I made figuring it out a priority, I think the bit is bothering him.

I did some research on the web trying to discover all of my options. Here they are and the pros and cons.

Hackamore: bosal and mechanical.

Both of these options use leverage and pain to control the horse. They can be more brutal than a bit and horses have had their jaws broken by the leveraged force applied by the mechanical hackamore. The bosal can be used to start a young horse but the mechanical hackamore can only be used on horses that know how to neck rein.

Snaffle bits:

These are probably the most common bit used to start young horses and the bit that I have chosen twice to use on Ashke. I had a eggbutt sweet iron and copper snaffle that Ashke hated. He refused to mouth the bit and as a consequence his mouth was dry and hard. I switched to a copper D-ring snaffle bit. He seemed to like this a bit more, since he works the bit in his mouth a lot more than the eggbutt, but again, it's not the best fit. I don't know if it's because his mouth is narrow and shallow, or if he just doesn't like having a bit in his mouth. I don't know if I really want to spend another $60 on another bit if there might be another option.

Curb bit:

These are leverage bits that increase the pressure on the horse's mouth and jaw in proportion to the length of the shank that the reins are attached to and the height of the shank the curb strap is attached to. I hate curb bits. They suck. I wouldn't use one with Ashke.

So, in searching the internet and reading forums, there is a small group that believe in using bitless bridles. Most of these people seem to be the same ones that believe in Parelli's Natural Horsemanship work. The people who are completely opposed to bitless bridles are the same people who believe Natural Horsemanship and the Parellis are nutjobs.

I am much more of a Mark Rashid fan. He falls closer to the Natural Horsemanship group than not.

In looking at the issues they discuss in diagnosis, I really think Ashke would be happier without the bit. I figure I can try the bitless bridle. If it works, I'll keep it. If it doesn't, I will send it back. It comes with a 30 day guarentee.


I rode yesterday with Nicole. I went to the barn after I finished work in the morning and spent a couple of hours with Ashke. We worked in the arena and then took a short trail ride up onto the mesa. We are taking it slow, because Cali is out of shape and still growing. Ashke did real well, except I am struggling with his responsiveness to the bit. (More on this in a later post.)

Today, J, T and I went to the barn and installed the new stall gate I got from my wonderful son and partner. (I picked it out, but only because J would have been lost trying to find one on her own.) It goes across his doorway so Ashke can leave out and watch what is going on up and down the aisle. It will allow him to be so much more interactive with everyone in the barn.

He loved being brushed today and I am happy with his feet. He felt very comfortable under saddle and wasn't favoring his right hamstring. We did all the gaits, although he got more and more agitated, instead of less, as our ride went on. I have a theory on that, but am saving it for my next post.

He was warm and a little wet by the time we were done. He kicked out (bucked) in protest at one of my requests to canter, so that resulted in some additional cantering up and down the arena. I have a theory about why he is unhappy doing arena work and my steps to correct the issue, but again, you are going to have to wait to find out. I walked him out to cool him off and then took him inside.

J fitted my saddle with the nylon, waterproof saddle cover I got for Christmas (are you sensing a theme here?) and it works really well. I'm hoping it will keep the dirt and dust off it in the tack room and I can use it during rides if it starts to rain. (Maybe I'll be able to wear my Aussie duster too.) Ashke was brushed down and blanketed (snowing here) and then put back into his run with a healthy feed of bran mash and carrots, which he likes better than peppermints.

I would never have been allowed to use a stall gate at Christensen's. Our only potential issue is Ashke's ability to reach the items hanging on his door and his neighbor's door. I can see that becoming playthings for him.

I think he liked the idea, but wasn't real sure it was going to be okay for him to lean out the doorway. I figure by tomorrow he will be an old hand at this. The stall gate is very well made, too.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Look Back

Ashke's POV:

Last Year:
      Cold, dirty and shaking with hunger.
      I was skin and bones, with little muscle and zero fat.
      Forced to eat horse poo for the grain in it.
      Forced to lick the ground for the minerals I need.
      Every bite I took hurt my mouth and made me eat slow.
      My owners thought that eating slow meant I wasn't hungry, so they fed me less.
      There was never enough food to share and the mares were mean to me.
      I was covered in bites and sores.
      My skin hurt to touch, especially over my back and ribs.
      My owners thought that chasing me with their ATV's was great fun.
      I had pee scald on my shins on my hind legs, because the ground I was kept on was hard, dry dirt.
      I was covered with mud and horse crap in an effort to stay warm.
      My feet were left untrimmed, too long in the heels and toe, which made each step painful.
      The hair on my face, belly and legs was six inches long, an attempt of my body to keep warm.
      I had swelling and bruising from multiple kicks.
      I had a small shelter I had to share with two mares that would chase me out into the cold.
      The hay I was being fed was poor quality grass, filled with weeds and smelled moldy.

Then mom came and every thing changed.

     I'm brushed and stroked every time mom comes to see me.
     My coat is clean, thick and shining.
     I have muscle and fat covering my bones.
     I get two pounds of Amplify all to myself every day, and it has an amino acid which makes my body feel better. Plus, Mom gives me a nommy warm, bran mash with carrots everytime I'm worked.
     I have a mineral block that I lick. A lot.
     My mom fed me by myself so it didn't matter how slow I ate and then she got the vet to fix my teeth so my cheeks weren't being jabbed and the ulcers I had there healed.
     My mom feeds me a lot. I am still, nine months later, getting six flakes of alfalfa/grass mix and it is so nommy.
     I get fed four times a day, so I don't have to go very long without food.
     I don't have to share my food with anyone. I have my own bin with hay that's meant just for me.
     No one bites me any more. I have my own space and can play over the fence if I want, but otherwise I'm good. All my sores have healed.
     My back and ribs now have muscle and a layer of fat over them. My skin is clean and unmatted. I love being brushed and mom is good about using the correct brush for my skin, regardless of the season.
     I am housed in a stall with a run, so I can go outside when I want, but can be inside when it's cold, or snowing or raining.
     Mom's idea of fun is to ride me in the arena, to ride out and explore our trails. Now, we have a huge mesa to explore.
     I now live in a run with soft ground, sand and small rock. My pee doesn't splatter any more and my pee scald is almost gone.
     I have a thick blanket the barn people put on me when it's cold. I have a bed of thick shavings to lay in at night.
     My mom has put a lot of time and thought into trying to get my feet right. She found the best farrier for me and I feel so much better now. She says she's going to buy me hiking boots for the rocky hills.
     My winter coat is thick, even, but not too long. I stay warm even without the blanket. No shivers for me.
     No swelling. No bruising. I get time off between rides. The bones on my legs are getting thicker and stronger. I'm getting stronger.
     I have my own stall, plus a run I can go out into whenever I want. I have thick shavings to lay in. I have a door they can shut when it gets nasty outside.
     I am getting a lot of yummy noms. The hay is tasty and fills me up. I'm not hungry any more. And I still get lots of treats.

I love my life.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

So Strong

Today was a wonderful day. I cleaned house while J cooked breakfast. We got most of the cleaning done, but then decided to finish it tomorrow. The weather was in the low 50's and I was jonesing for a ride. I talked T and J into going with me. They were going to climb Table Mountain and look for geocaches while I rode.

Ashke was outside enjoying the sun when we got there. He is looking so good every time I see him. His belly is a bit round, but that will slim up with work and I want him to have plenty to eat this winter. And from looking at pictures of other Arabians, that round belly is part of their conformation. Now if we could just get his butt built up a bit, I would be very happy. Today was a start on that.

After grooming him and tacking him up, I took him to the indoor arena. Tightening the cinch is going so much better. I go slow and he is pretty much okay with it. I think as we continue, it will get better. I checked the cinch in the indoor arena and then got on. We walked for six circuits before moving into the trot. Ashke maintained the trot very well today. He didn't pop up in the front like he has been. Just a nice collected trot. Then we cantered. I lost my stirrup on our first round and we had to stop so I could gather my balance again. I'm getting closer to riding the canter the way I'm supposed to. Of course, I am paying for it tonight, since all of the muscles in my back feel like they've been beaten. But we are getting there. Slowly. A little closer each day.

After we had worked in the indoor arena, we headed for the mesa. I had told a woman who had been riding her horse when I got there that I wanted to go out and ride. She told me I should wait, because the ground would be slick. I didn't think so. It looked pretty dry to me, despite the snow that still covered the ground. Ashke was excited to go out again.

There is no quit in this horse. And he had no issue going out alone. That is a wonderful thing.

I knew J and T were out somewhere on the mountain. We headed out to see if we could find them.

Two things about Table Mountain. It's very steep. And it's incredibly rocky.

Both of these things were new for Ashke. He needs to learn to watch where he steps and to listen to me a bit more, although I have no complaint about his effort today. We just need to work on rating.

I found J and T, although they were too high on too steep a hillside for Ashke and I to get up to them. They moved closer to the plateau and Ashke and I moved around to meet them. Ashke spent the ride looking around, with his ears up and his eyes wide. I love that look. When I got up to J and T, Ashke was warm and puffing. He had trotted a couple of times over pretty short distances, but I didn't let him maintain the pace for very long. It was way too rocky and we need to work on his listening to me while we are doing things like that. Also, Diane said to walk hills, not trot them.

When I reached J, I dismounted and looked back at the ranch. It's kind of hard to see. The two long white patches are the indoor and the barn. As Ashke carried me up to J, J greeted him with the words "so strong". It was funny, because it was exactly what I was thinking.

So strong. His right hammie is getting better each time I ride. There was no sense of weakness or hesitancy in his stride. We went right up the hillside without balking, or hesitation. J rewarded him with peppermints.

I got off and let Ashke catch his breath and we made much of him. I walked him down a bit to where it wasn't so steep and then swung up. We headed back.


Ashke did a great job of keeping his butt underneath him when we were going down hill. He didn't try to trot or overstep himself. He listened well and kept himself collected beneath me. 

I got off when we reached the farm, mostly due to evil hoses laying across the road and I didn't want to push it, since we had done so well up to that point. As I was leading Ashke up to the barn, I saw Jeff. I said hi and he told me Nicole and Cali were in the indoor. I turned to go to the indoor and Ashke balked for the first time all day. We were at the door to the barn when I turned him back toward the indoor to go say hi to Nicole. He got a lot happier when he saw Cali waiting for him in the arena. We rode with Nicole, who was riding bareback in a halter (on the horse, not her. Too cold.)

Our route today. I rode for almost two hours, but only 30 minutes out on the mesa. Ashke was strong and resilient. He did a great job.

One of the things I think is important for him to figure out is that it is okay to feel tired and maybe a little sore after an outing. He needs to recognize his own strength and his ability to recover from a ride. He is incredibly strong and needs to recognize that. And to realize that he not only will survive these types of rides, but will thrive on them.


Ashke did find some of the rocks scarey. Like tilt your head sideways and watch them very closely scarey. But every time I turned him to face what he was hesitant about, and told him he was a good boy,  he walked up to it and touched it with his nose. One time he scrapped at the rock with his teeth. I'm pretty sure that wasn't the best idea.

Not a bad outing for our first serious ride on the mesa. It's interesting that we climbed a lot on the first mile out, but then rode downhill most of the way home.

Ashke got a good feed of warm bran (J said he started nickering when he heard the water turn on) and carrots. We loaded up the supplement bin with baggies of amplify and lysine for this week. I think I will have to get more Lysine in a couple of weeks.

One of the things they can do at this barn is leave the stall door open and put a stall guard up. A stall guard looks like this:

The stall guard allows the horse to lean out into the aisle and see what is going on. Ashke is so curious that I think he would love it. I asked Santa for it for Christmas and I have on pretty good authority that I've been a very good girl this year.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Saddle Revisited

I feel like my last post was a little incoherent, even for me. Sorry about that. I have changed my routine a bit as far as Ashke goes. I leave work and go directly to the barn, (advantage new barn), work Ashke, and then drive home. This process leaves me more time to work Ashke, gets me home close to seven, instead of the nine o'clock I was getting home at before, and doesn't require J or T accompanying me there. A win all around, since going home, cooking dinner, finishing homework and then driving to the barn was taking up all of our evening while making it difficult to get a good workout in with Ashke. Fail as a parent and Fail as a horse owner. Now, we have family time in the evening when I get home and Ashke gets worked. Win all the way around. The only drawback is that J has to cook (my job), so I guess I am failing as a wife. Oh well.

So, last night after working with Ashke, I had to stop and pick up stuff for the barn party on Friday, try to find chips (Takis) for T's band party today, and get GC's for T, J and one of T's teachers. I was home late, hungry and delirious. After eating, I tried to do my blog, but was interupted by the demands of petting a small black kitten. All in all, not my finest blog attempt. So, to clarify . . .

I think my riding struggle at the canter is four fold.

First, we aren't doing a lot of cantering.

I am riding in the indoor arena, which isn't heated but still comfortable, and only doing six or so circuits of the arena at a canter. Just like I was struggling earlier in the year to ride at the trot (sit the trot as the English riders say), I am struggling to get my body to remember how to relax and move with the horse. As we work our way up in the number and length of time we are riding, I think I will ride for longer periods of time at the canter, giving my body a chance to remember and rebuild the necessary muscles. I am much more comfortable at the trot now, even the extended trot, and expect that I will gain ability at the canter as we do it more. My desire to ride at the canter for a longer period of time is tempered by knowledge of Ashke's fitness and the need to not sweat him up during the winter. I don't want him chilled and I don't have a ton of time to cool him off at the end of the workout. Even after he is cooled down, if he is sweaty, he will be chilled afterwards. Drying sweat in a thick winter coat sucks. So, we are going slow. I would much rather do this right the first time than to screw up and have him experience a set back.

Second, Ashke moves differently than Queenie did at the canter.

Queenie, when she cantered, had a big, easy lope. She was 15.2 hands, with a long back and a long stride. Queenie had an incredible running walk and could do 7 miles an hour at the walk for hours. At the canter, she was settled and smooth. She did either lead equally well. She was on the leaner side, prototype Appy prior to their evolution into a spotted, big assed QH type horse. I never worried about her shying out or spooking at anything. She was rock solid. And we spent most of our time at either the walk or the canter. We never trotted except during 4-H. The canter was our gait.

Ashke has a sweet canter on the left lead, provided he is collected. Once he starts to stretch out, he becomes more ragged. He has a much shorter stride than I am used to riding, due to his short back and how he is put together. We are still learning our balance at this gait. I'm sure his job isn't any easier, considering I am relearning my riding skills. I should be happy we have come this far. So, in part my body is learning a new skill, not just relearning an old one. When Nicole was watching us ride on Sunday, she said he looked relaxed and collected, and was moving nicely. I felt like he was being choppy and short, but I think that's an Arabian thing. He's not going to move like a warmblood. He's not going to move like a QH. He's not going to move like Cali. I need to ride with some other Arabians, so I can compare his stride and movement with them. And not Arabians that are being shown Western Pleasure. I have no interested in the rocking horse canter that seems to me to be a canter in the front and a trot in the back. No thank you. (Although, now that I've written it out that way, Ashke does that sometimes. It feels like he is trying to canter in the front and maintain a trot in the back. I always chalked it up to him trying to compensate for his back - earlier this year - or him anticipating my request for a canter. Now, I wonder if he was started at some point in WP and is now very confused by my antics.)

Third, I am riding in an Aussie saddle.

Aussie saddles, in case you don't know, are a combination of western style and english style. Why do I have one? Man From Snowy River. That's right, I picked my riding style and equipment from a Disney movie. However, in my defense, I do have some very valid reasons for wanting an Aussie saddle. One, they are much lighter in weight than the western saddle. When you are thinking of spending a ton of time in the saddle and you weight as much as I do, having lighter equipment is necessary. Two, your seat style is similar to a western saddle, which is good, because I don't know how to ride English and have no desire to try. The saddle also has fenders in the front, which are designed to help the rider stay in the saddle while bushwacking. Three, the saddle I picked is called a close contact saddle. It brings me in as close of contact with my horse as an non-English saddle can, and I've been very happy with Ashke's response to leg pressure.

I had ridden in an Aussie saddle in the early nineties and knew going into this that I wanted an Aussie saddle. When we went to Down Under Saddlery, I explained to the woman there what type of horse I was getting, that I wanted a saddle that would be as close to riding bareback as it was possible to be, and what kind of horse I was getting. The woman who helped me was very knowledgeable. She fitted us with a great saddle and she's also the person who helped fix the padding so it fit Ashke's back better when we were having issues. He's so much more comfortable now. I am pleased with my choice, but I am still becoming accustomed to riding in it. Mind you, when we are out on the trail and my focus is riding, not working on leads or leg yields, or other technical riding issues, I and Ashke are both very comfortable. And I have stayed on and in control even when scared by wicked bunnies or mini horses.

Fourth, I'm still developing muscles.

Riding is something that requires muscle and balance. Balance requires muscles. I have weak, whimpy muscles and although it is getting better and I am feeling stronger, my body is reshaping and relearning itself. I put my weight loss program on hold for the holidays and although I haven't lost any more weight, I haven't gained any either, which I see as a win for me. The plethora of sugar heavy candy and cookies, the number and variety of meals and the overall stress of the season was not playing nicely with my diet, so better to suspend my weight loss program than to constantly be getting on myself about what I was eating.

On top of developing muscles, I am cautious about reinjuring my back. I have a slipped disc at my L5 vertebre and have been seeing a chiropractor for six years to address it. When we canter, my hips move in such a way that it puts pressure on that disc. Which results in pain. Not the OMG-I-can't-walk-ever-again-pain, but pain nonetheless. That pain makes me cautious. I don't ever want to have to deal with the excruciating pain of an active slipped disc again, so am willing to take it slow. However, I do want to canter, so we are going to go ahead at a slower pace. Everytime I've tried to speed up our process, something has happened to slow me down. Perhaps this is the universe's way of giving both Ashke and I time to heal and to develop the muscle we need to be great at this riding thing.

So, my goal going forward is to condition and strengthen both Ashke and myself. To make our riding sessions a little longer each time. To expand our canter each ride. To find balance and relaxation between the two of us. To find our stride at every gait and to become perfect companions to each other: balance, ability and some small measure of grace. We will revisit the plan in the spring, when we can get out on the trail and actually start tracking our miles.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Back in the Saddle Again

I went out to see Ashke tonight. He seemed a little down. He wasn't, however, bellowing for Cali tonight. He actually seemed pretty happy to see me and whinnied at me a couple of times. Unfortunately, the pictures are blurry and not great lightning.

Ashke was pretty sweet. He listened really well. He snorted at the snow and took quite a while to gaze around him as we were walking from the barn to the indoor arena. I'm not sure he had ever trod through six inches of snow before. He also shied at the small pile of snow at the edge of the ring every time we rode past it. All thirty times.

It's really hard to take good pictures when the horse follows me around. Also, not a great point of view.

Ashke was awesome with me tonight. We walked, trotted, and cantered. And shied. A lot. At the buckets, the poles, the funky white jump brackets and the little pile of snow at the edge of the arena.

When we first got to the arena it was very dark. I had to lead Ashke inside the dark arena to reach the lights. There was a mounting block in the middle of the walk way and Ashke tripped over it. He went sideways and snorted, but didn't come close to running me over. I love that.

He did really good under saddle. I concentrated on how I was riding and I think I figured something out. I am, possibly, learning to ride in a saddle for the first time, ever.

Now, mind you, I rode bareback most of my young existence. Or with a pad saddle. I broke and trained horses bareback. I didn't get a saddle until I was 16, so most of the time before that I rode bareback all the time and just used the saddle for the classes it was required in when showing in 4-H. That combined with Ashke's movement is completely throwing me off.

I did better tonight, but one of my issues is losing my stirrups when I canter. It's because I hold on with my knees, which in this saddle means drawing my legs up slightly and gripping the knee fenders. I'm pretty sure that's what they are for. Even when Ashke was cantering easily tonight, I was riding like that. I'm waiting for him to shy out from under me instead of relaxing and letting him go.

Cantering in the saddle is also causing my hips to flex in a manner that makes my back hurt. I'm still not completely healed from my earlier accidents and still need to build muscle across my pelvis and lower back. Don't suggest bareback now, because I couldn't do it. I just need to give myself the same amount of time to develop muscle as I am Ashke.

Am  I a good photographer or what? As I was cooling Ashke off by walking him around the arena, we worked on him turning in small circles in response to heel touches. He did great for a while until he got a bit tired of working on it. It's difficult to get him to respond to heel pressure without taking off at a trot, which I didn't want, since I was trying to cool him down.

That's my glove on the ground under him. I threw it at him to get him to lift his head and look at me. He does not look amused.

Not bad for nine months, right? His back and butt are getting bigger and he is no longer back sore at all. Soon we will be doing hills and his rear will bulk up, right?

Pictures just don't do him justice. At least, not low light, iPhone pictures.

He was trying to figure out what the hell I was doing. I think the trim on his hooves has had a huge impact on how he feels under saddle.

Don't you love this chest? We are currently feeding six flakes of alf/grass mix and two pounds of Amplify mixed with 20 grams of Lysine a day. Ashke still has feed left in his feeder - I think its some of the grass hay he was being fed. I'm glad he is getting plenty to eat.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Unique In All the World

We have come full circle . . . a full year since I was given Ashke.

In retrospect, I wish we could have picked him up in January. If we had known or been told that he was starving to death in their pasture, we would have made different plans. Perhaps then he wouldn't have spent the winter shivering in the cold. Perhaps I should have listened better, because I suspected something was wrong when they wouldn't send pictures. I think you hope for the best though, when an instance like this occurs.

I saw Steve and Michelle on Saturday night at the Holiday party for my company. I was polite but did not stay to chat. They did not ask about him. There was no talk of horses or Ashke. No jesting about giving away another animal. I couldn't tell if it was embarassment or complete disregard. I honestly didn't stay around long enough to find out. It's just as well, since I didn't have to bitch-slap anyone.

I wonder if Ashke knew . . . if the hope of someone coming to rescue him was what kept him alive. I can't imagine how dark and dreary his days were, without someone for him to believe in. Perhaps the wind whispered to him that if he held on long enough, I would come. I would come with food and shelter and a thick blanket. That he would no longer be weak or hungry or cold. That his needs would be met with warmth and extra food, with companionship and love.

Perhaps the future can call to the past and carry a message of what can be if you just hold on long enough.

Erin Ralston believed so. He believed that the child of his future, borne to his wife after he lost his arm, came to him in a waking dream while he was pinned to the wall of the slot canyon by his rotting arm. It was what gave him the strength to cut himself free and then hike seven miles with an amputated arm to find help.

Might Ashke have experienced some of the same thing? I could hope that the dream of warm bran mash, carrots, peppermints and a place of his own where he didn't have to fight for his food kept him company during the dark and bitter winter months he had to endure. I could hope that the thought of his teeth being fixed, his feet being balanced and the chiropractic care he has received kept him going through the pain of being so cold he shivered. I hope he knew I was coming.

Ashke seemed to recognize me when I first walked up to him. I think he knew I was there to rescue him and that the dream of plenty of hay, fresh water, and loving care was about to become reality. Something kept his heart whole and open and so full of giving I can't begin to put it into words.

I think Erin was right.

I was sickened by the actions of Steve and Michelle. It makes me feel angry and nausiated at the same time. I can not believe the callous disregard some people have toward the animals they are given. I am not an advocate for the philosophy that you should elect to pursue all medical avenues to keeping an animal alive, but I am an advocate for people meeting the most basic of needs for the animals they are entrusted with: food, shelter and basic care. Once you have an animal you have tamed, you are responsible, regardless. You are responsible for their lives. You are responsible for taking care of them until you can't any more. And if you can't, there are options. They can't have believed that the shape Ashke was in was acceptable.

"One only understands the things that one tames,. . . if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world....People have forgotten this truth," the fox said. "But you mustn’t forget it. You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed." --The Little Prince

Sunday, December 16, 2012


Today, Nicole decided to move Cali. She is moving to the far end of the barn, with about half the barn between Cali and Ashke. Nicole thinks they are too attached and it is time to neighus interuptus. I agree with her. Ashke has been pushy moving from turn-out to the stall. He has ran himself into an absolute lather when she is taken away from him. And today, he reared up in the grooming stall and tried to trample me when Nicole headed to the arena without us. (He got yelled at and slapped on the shoulder for that one.) It is time to curb this co-dependence.

Today was blustery and windy and cold. We rode in the indoor arena and both Nicole and I were amazed we were the only riders in there. Ashke was awesome. We walked and trotted until he was warmed up. We cantered in both directions on the correct lead without cross cantering. This was a first. Nicole had stopped riding, not wanting to over exert Cali while getting back into riding, and was talking me through the canter. She had me settle him into the trot first and then ask for the canter. Nicole wanted me to get out of his face and see what happens when we canter on a loose rein. We tried it first clockwise. Ashke was a little ragged, but not as bad as he has been in the past. I'm thinking balancing his feet made a huge difference. We turned and moved to the left. Ashke picked up the canter so easy and we rode around two or three times on a loose rein. He was so relaxed and easy.

I am very pleased with the progress we are making. His hamstring is getting stronger. His walk has expanded and lengthened, quicker and with better action than before we went to Diane. I think he can outwalk any of the horses I've been riding with. We knew he could outwalk Cali. He's walking better now. His trot is settling and extending. His back is getting stronger. And we are doing a lot of work on leg yields and transitions. Both of those things are helping his hammie. I was telling Nicole that Ashke hated cantering in the old arena, because of the size and the difficulty in moving around the corners on either end. I think he is much more comfortable now.

Today was the first time I was able to ride since Thursday. Friday was too emotionally draining to try and yesterday was too busy. I think the day or two between work is working for Ashke. It's giving him time to recuperate between work. I left him in the grooming stall while I fixed his mash and carrots. He was turning his head and nickering at me while I was warming it up. He's so cute.

I cut off his mane today. I cut it at the line where the new, healthy growth was. I'm sure it will be better and look better when it grows out again. For now, the cut is very similar to that of a reining horse.

I know one of the biggest issues I have is relearning how to ride the canter. Today was a great step forward in trusting him to not shy sideways, to want to canter well with me, and for me to start relearning my balance. My seat. How the hell to ride in a saddle. And then, maybe I can start trying the bridleless riding. And bareback (well, on a pad anyway.) And I am beginning to think I might have an endurance horse on my hands.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Joey: July 7, 2003 - December 14, 2012

I didn't go see Ashke yesterday, because we had to put our Boxer dog, Joey, to sleep. I know that up til now this blog has been about Ashke, but I wanted to share our story of Joey.

We brought her home November 26, 2003. She was wiggly, bouncey and pure boxer dog.

She was sweet and protective of our family. She loved to woo-woo at anyone walking by, which was great because we got her, in part, to protect our home.

She loved T. He was three and a half when we brought her home and they instantly became best buds. She never nipped, or growled or did anything but love on him. She was the best dog.

Always super sweet to T. She loved to play and would sometimes stir up trouble just to make things more interesting. She would bounce me and bark, while I pretended to try and step on her toes. She would play this game with me right up until a couple of weeks ago.

Just so sweet and accommodating.

She loved to camp and hike and climb rocks and swim. She was the BEST. CAMPING. DOG. EVER.

Loved exploring.

One of my favorite memories was taking Joey snowshoeing. She loved the snow. She was wearing a sweater and puppy paws. We hit a part in the trail where there was a flat long run and Joey took off like a bat out of hell. Puppy paws went flying in four different directions. She didn't care, because she loved to run in the snow. 

She was so protective of T. Several times at the dog park she placed herself between T and other dogs and would have defended him if she needed to. In the 9 years we had her, she never once nipped or bit at any of us. Ever. 

Only boxer we know who loved to play ball. To the point of maddening exhaustion on the part of the humans. She didn't ever get tired, at least not until the end.

She loved her Evil Orange Squeeky Ball. Which she named Squeek. Most annoying ball ever. But man did she love that thing. Evil Orange Squeeky ball was replaced by Evil Pink Squeeky ball. Joey could chase that ball up and down the stairs for hours. 

So tolerant.

We bred her one time and she had three pups born via caesarean. She bled out on the table and died. The vet brought her back. She was changed after that. Perhaps in part because she became a mama, but I also think in large part because of her bleeding out.

She was such a good mama. And the pups were awesome. We kept all three.

The four of them would play so hard. She was so good with them. 

Joey was always the smallest. She never weighed much more than 40 lbs or so, but she grew big pups. Guinness weight 10 lbs at six weeks. The three pups all ended up over sixty lbs. Joey always ruled though. Once the mom, always the mom.

She gave us our boxer rainbow.

 A plethora of boxers.

They were pretty noise at times. Joey started getting gray too soon.

Loved being outside.

Loved running and messing with the pups. And the prairie dogs.


Always in the front. Always. She had the soul of a wanderer. Always wanting to see what was over the next hill.

Always with her pack.

Puppy pile.

Even getting older didn't slow her down much. She loved going to Wyoming. She loved climbing rocks.

The other dogs would get scared or intimidated, but not Joey. She would just look for another way to get up. And up. And up.

She would jump and scramble.

I can't tell you how many times when we were climbing where one of us would ask "where is Joey?" Only to look up and find her somewhere on the rocks above us.

Joey loved to swim.

 Sometimes she would fetch sticks. Or balls.

 Sometimes she would just swim cuz there was water there.

Many times we would throw rocks in the water and she would stick her entire head under water, eyes and nose squenched shut, trying to pick the rock up off the bottom of the pond.

 We lost our Red dog about a year ago. And then there were only three. They are all getting older and greyer, but Joey still loved to go.

 On our last camping trip in August, we knew it wouldn't be too much longer. She had a huge tumor in her neck, but because of the type of tumor and her bleeding disorder, we opted to just let her live out her life without medical intervention.

Ten days ago, the tumor began to grow exponentially. Quickly. And painfully. We kept Joey comfortable, but knew it was just a matter of time. Yesterday it was time.

I carried Joey to the car. Then I carried her into the vet's office. I held her head in my hands, while J and T reassured her. The vet gave her the shot. It was painless and very quick and we held her until her heart stopped beating. The bright, bouncy puppy we brought home was gone.

We had an incredible nine years with Joey. She gave us three pups and her whole heart. She's with Red now and she was always Red's favorite play toy. They'll hang out together until we can all be a pack again.