Saturday, April 28, 2012

Fifth Ride

I couldn't decide which picture I liked better, so I posted both.

He wasn't crazy about the mounting block, but listened to my request to stand. 

He remembers what we've worked on the last ride and then we build on it in the next lesson. He still fights my hands and the bit when we trot, but he is starting to relax and bend a bit when I ask him to turn.

Of course, we are still working on it.

He listens pretty good. We had to lengthen the breast plate by a hole on either side of the saddle. His shoulder is certainly developing. 

This is the attitude with which he typically works. He has a great walk. Still working on the trot.

Ashke was doing so well we moved to the big arena to give us an opportunity to move in a different direction than a circle. It made Ashke a little more excited and a little less able to listen.

This is my favorite picture from today.

Four Weeks . . .

Today marks the four week mark in the rehab of my horse . . . I want to post pictures side by side to show the change in Ashke.

Can you believe the difference? He has put on weight over the withers, across the ribs, his flank has filled in and his shoulder is so much better. He went from skeletal to not so much. He actually has muscle and weight on his haunches.

The picture on the left still makes me cry. That was the worse thing in my opinion, how obvious the shoulder bone was - it emphasized how incredibly thin he was. The lump/bruise on his left shoulder has healed and you can see how much weight and muscle he has gained.

I love his face! He has the sweetest eyes (and I absolutely love the white eyelashes). Most of the long hair has shed off his face, showing the elegance of his breeding. The skin around his muzzle and eyes shines through and I can just imagine how pretty it would look with a little of the face gel that leaves the halter horses so shiny.
He has a chest! It's very difficult to really see he has a chest in the picture on the left. Really easy to see his awesomely strong chest on the right. It doesn't look like the same horse. IMHO.

I LIKE BIG BUTTS AND I CAN NOT LIE!! He still needs a bit of muscle and meat, but he is so much bigger than when we picked him up!

I think these two pictures tell the entire story. Most of the bone that you could see when we brought Ashke home is now layered under some body fat and the beginnings of muscle. You can't tell from the pictures, but the muscle has built up around his spine and filled in his tail dock.

I swear its the same horse!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Around and Around

Tomorrow makes four weeks since I clambered into the truck with L and JJ and drove to Texas to rescue the poor, starved horse formerly known as Ahboo. I can't believe it's been four weeks. Ashke is continuing to put on weight and is learning new things with every day.

Tonight, there was a huge storm that moved through right before we got to the barn, but despite that Ashke was fairly calm and focused. He stood to be groomed and seemed to enjoy the sensation, leaning into the brushes and moving toward the curry comb instead of away. Saddling was easy and he didn't even flinch much when the saddle cinch was tightened. I am careful to go slow and easy when tightening the girth. There is never a reason to just yank on the thing. He lifts all four feet without any pressure from me. I just run my hand down his leg and ask and he lifts his foot. Despite our attempts to keep him clean, he does insist on laying down in his stall. He is a grey, and now that his hair is growing in healthy, you can see the pattern of white skin under the hair. Grey is a misnomer, however, since what he is is white with flecks of bay. His entire spine is speckled with bay hair. I shall endeavor to provide pictures of those spots at some point in the future.

All in all, in the grooming area, I would say he was a C- when he first arrived and he is now a solid A.

His interaction with us - meaning myself, J and T - was a solid B when he arrived. I would say it has progressed to an A. The biting as started to tailor off and when he tries I just give him a look. (It is a look any mother would recognize). It seems to do the trick better than swatting at him which, if one judges by his pattern of flinches, is what he is expecting. Tonight when I first got to the stall he stuck his nose out at me and I gave him a kiss. He wiggled his nose around (think end of an elephant trunk and how flexible that is) and turned my sweet innocent kiss into something slobbery and wet. His nose is so soft. Horse slobber, however, is not recommended.

We walked out to the round pen. With the exception of the bathing area earlier this week, Ashke has been wonderful on lead. I would have given him a D- when he first got here. Not that he ran up on top of his leader, or tried to shoulder you out of the way, it was more that he didn't realize he wasn't the one in charge and that balking or just plain stopping wasn't acceptable. With consistent effort and by gently using the come-along, Ashke figured out the leading thing pretty quick. This boy is smart. Now, I would say he deserves a solid A.

I rode. I hate watching myself on video, since how I see myself in my head (especially with the horse) is what I looked like in my 20's. That was a long time ago. And a child ago. And menopause ago. Lots of miles and damage to my body. So, forgive me. I feel a lot better up than I look.

That said, here is the first of the videos.

He had a bit of a hump in his back for the first couple of times around the arena. And he so did not want to trot. He kept pinning his ears and swishing his tail and kicking up with his hind end, as you can see in this video.

I don't think it helped that there was lightning in the distance, it was almost dark and T was first kicking a soccer ball around and then chasing a bunny. I did get Ashke to finally settle into a trot, which is a good pace for building muscle and beginning to develop his wind. We rode at the walk and trot (which we really had to work at) for about 30 minutes, which was enough to warm the guy up and get his breathing a bit heavy. Just a little at a time.

What an amazing difference a few weeks can make!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Third Time's the Charm

I rode Ashke for the third time tonight and it was OMG!!!

We did circles in the round pen in both directions at the walk and the trot. Ashke seemed to become more comfortable with each stride and didn't try on any level to buck or run out from under me. I could feel him relax and pick up his feet and lengthen his stride. J said she could see him lengthen under me. I rode most of the walk arounds with a loose rein. Ashke has already recognized that he should stay next to the rail when we are moving around the round pen.

Asking him for the trot was a little more difficult. It took a lot of encouragement to get him to trot and then he stopped every time he reached the part of the ring where T was. I finally got him to continue at the trot for a couple of rounds and then we went back to the trot. I need to length my stirrups and let my legs come down, since it is hard to cue him when I feel like a jockey (alright, not that bad). I had shortened the stirrups to help keep me in the saddle in case he decided to get jumpy. I think we are past that and I really need to be able to cue him correctly to get him to move into the bit and relax.

He stopped with the slightest touch on the bit, taking his cues from my verbal command. Ashke turned easily to the right but struggled turning to the left. I think it will help when I can apply some leg and get him to bend around it. Next up, longer stirrups.

After I had finished my loop de loops I went to dismount, hung a toe in the stirrup (another reason to lengthen them) and fell on my ass right in front of Ashke. Ashke? He put his head down and sniffed me. He never moved. I, being a woman who has had a child, had the inevitable result that a lot of women who have had a child would have had falling on their ass in the dirt. (If you don't know what I am talking about, then I'm not going to tell you.) It was embarrassing to say the least, but Ashke didn't even flinch. He just touched my helmet with his nose and snorted at me. He didn't even move when I rolled over and climbed to my feet. He amazes me.

T was ready to ride. When we positioned the mounting block for T to use to get on him, it was up under Ashke's belly. He got on without any issues, but then when I moved Ashke forward I wasn't paying attention and he tangled his feet on the block. Ashke tried to run away from the block and gave T a pretty good shot of adrenaline. I kept him moving in a circle until I could get him calmed down. The second time Ashke jumped was because T tightened his feet into Ashke's belly. Ashke was willing to go faster, but I wasn't willing to, so T found a different way to hold on.

I wish I could explain how happy I am and how willing Ashke is to learn anything I ask of him. We had a great night. When I was grooming him I explained to him that being in a relationship with his rider was what the Arabian was bred for. I explained that he came from a long line of horses bred for just this reason and he needed to step up and show he could do it. I told him he was carrying the lineage of a thousand years of breeding and I knew he wanted to be a horse with his rider. He seemed to understand every thing I said.

Bath Time Again

I was planning on riding again last night, but then I discovered the joy of owning a white horse. He had so much poo and pee all over both sides of him and although I tried to brush it out, it was still pretty gross. We decided to wash him and although it was almost dark, the temp was still almost 70.

J was wonderful enough  to fill the wash bucket from the sink with warm water so he didn't have to be completely washed in cold water. If we could have gotten him in the inside bath room he could have had a warm bath, but I don't think that was going to happen. I showed him the room and he wasn't real excited about it. Getting him up on the concrete pad at the outside wash area was a struggle in itself.

I had to resort to getting the lunge rope and doing the "come-along" to get him to step up. BECAUSE THE CONCRETE WAS WET! He didn't want to step up onto the water and even with the come-along he stopped and snorted before stepping up. Once he was up he was fine. And I'm happy to report that he has enough body fat that he didn't get cold. In fact his temp stayed pretty good and he came out white.

We wandered around the barn until he dried. He was being a pill. He threatened to kick at me when I was running my hands over him for which he got swatted on the shoulder. I could swear he giggled afterward. He also bit at me at least once and they jerked his head up like he knew he was going to be smacked. I laughed at him.

Here is the other side:

He is getting muscle on the stiple and across his chest. The vet (who I'm beginning to believe is a real doof) talked like he shouldn't need to put on much more weight, but I disagree. He is still a three or so on the body condition chart and I want his butt, shoulder and back to fill out more. J thinks she can see wrinkles in the skin where he can still fill out.

I hope he doesn't get too dirty today.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Three Weeks

Today marks the end of the third week of Thee Ashke being with us at Christensen Stables. I have to give a shout out to Christensen Stables (CS). They are clean and most of the people there have been very friendly. The stalls are shaked down every day and new shavings added, and completely cleaned out once a week. The tack rooms are clean and locked and people are pretty good about keeping their equipment clean and covered. Ashke is getting plenty of food and continues to put on weight.

Ashke has adapted to his schedule and I have no issues with getting him out of the stall and into the grooming stall, even after moving him down the aisle. He isn't happy to be groomed or worked when there is food in his feeding bin (this happen on both Saturday and Sunday). I wish we could have washed him today, since he is laying down in his stall to sleep and his white/grey coat is completely covered with poo. Brushing him out only does so much, and there is still places on his body that haven't gotten really clean since moving him up here. I can clean all four feet without issue and the farrier trimmed them, so they look nice and neat.

As for the weight gain, Ashke has done better than I ever expected. He has gained weight everywhere and his haunches are finally gaining some roundness. His spine is not nearly so boney, although he still needs to gain weight through his barrel. His shoulder has almost filled enough to cover the bone, but not entirely. His ribs are no longer so visible, but again, he needs to gain weight in his ribs. He still has a small wound on his back right hock, but it has scabbed over with no swelling or heat, so it seems to be healing quickly.

We got to the barn early today and pulled him from the stall. Ashke was ticklish on his flank and his belly. Silly boy. I think he was being twitchy because he wanted to go eat. I didn't do his feet cuz J had already pulled the saddle out of the tack room and was standing there holding it. I didn't have the heart to make her hold it until I was done with his feet. I did comb his forelock and mane, however. J didn't want to do his mane or tail because he was being so squirrelly.

So, I walked him out to the round pen and this happened.

I had to laugh cuz Ashke kept walking over to where J was on the other side of the fence and stopping. I think he thought she was going to save him.

He is so cute when he tries to let me know he doesn't want me on his back. He does this little hop and buck. Its very cute. I think as we keep working on it, that will stop and he will start relaxing into my hands.

I really think the idiot who said this horse wasn't trainable had a frontal lobotomy. Does this horse look untrainable to you?

So, I want to point out that while we were working our way around the arena there was a huge semi with a big hopper and a trailer with a front loader with a scoop that pulled into the stable area. The guy backed the trailer in between the round pen and the large arena. The guy got out of the truck and then asked me if my horse was going to be okay. I had to laugh. If my horse was going to have an issue it would have already happened. I think Keili would have killed herself if that had happened to her. Ashke just wanted to know what was going on. He didn't turn a hair. The guy started loading shit and shavings from the barn's dump pile into the back of the manure extractor (which was what the semi was called). I just get more impressed with this horse every day.

Next Saturday, we will get the boy bathed and groomed and some new pictures posted.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Changes . . . .

So, today saw some changes for the Ashke man. We are adjusting his feed again. It is going from 1.5 pounds of grain plus .5 pound of Amplify twice a day to 1 pound of grain and 1 pound of Amplify twice a day. That way he gets more of the weight gainer and less of the climb the walls and do backflips grain. (More fat, fewer sugars). Additionally, we moved him from the isolation stall (it has a solid wood wall between him and any other horses) to a stall where he will have horses on both sides of him that he can smell and talk to. I think he was a little shocked. And it might be an adjustment for him to eat with his head next to the horse in the stall next to him. However, in the long run, it is a necessary move since he would have started showing signs of depression from being isolated. It is good to see him adjusting and making friends. Across the aisle from him is "Apollo" (Apollo Inbey) one of the Arabians I really like.

The second thing we did was buy him a play ball and hang it in his new stall. He loves to bite and chew on stuff and this bright red ball should help keep him entertained when no one is about. He was trying to bite it and pull it out of T's hands while I was grooming him, so we figure he will enjoy having it to fight off boredom. We also wired up his salt block so he can lick it instead of chewing it in his bin. Grace recommended we buy a large block and just set it in the corner for him. The large blocks are so much cheaper that we will definitely be getting one of those next time we buy one.

Ashke no longer needs to be prompted to walk into the grooming area. He stands pretty comfortably while I groom him. He still has some long hair on his belly and flank area. I have no idea how long it will be before he sheds that out. He still has small patches of longer hair in spots all over his body. His ears are fuzzy. He has long hair in the center of his face. His neck, however, looks awesome. And he is getting meat along his backbone. I can see scars from wire fences on the inside of his right stifle. I can't tell if the dark patches mixed in with the white are scars or bay hair. It will be good to get him shed out and really clean.

After grooming him, I put the saddle and bridle on him and led him to the round pen.

And then we did this:

Ashke did pretty good. He walked around the round pen several trips in both directions without throwing a hissy fit. He did get a couple of good bucks in, both of which I weathered without much issue. Although, the last time he fussed I did lose my stirrups, but that was primarily due to tightening my knees up under the "oh shit" bars (fenders) on my saddle. One of the better reasons for riding in an Aussie saddle, in my opinion. He responded well to the bit and handled my requests to walk forward without a whole lot of protest. I felt pretty good in the saddle.

Today we focused on walking without bucking (much) and listening to my requests to move forward and to stop. Tomorrow we will work on those items again, and on softening to the bit, so he's not fighting against me so much. Walking him in circles around the round pen while riding him was infinitely better than walking around the round pen leading him. I can see the exercise level going up, which is good, since I want to turn his calories into muscle, not just let it be fat.

After I had ridden him enough that Ashke was no longer throwing his haunches into the great beyond, I got off and this happened.

T wanted to know after we had walked around the arena for several trips when he was going to be able to ride him by himself. I had no good response to that.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Houston, We Have a Problem

Tonight was interesting. Ashke was great for most of the night. Grooming, feet, saddling and putting the bridle on occurred with no issues.

He was fairly comfortable and only shifted a little bit when I tightened the girth.

We did several circuits around the arena.

I put weight on both stirrups, moved the saddle back and forth and hung weight over the back of the saddle.

What a sweet face and good eye.

He didn't seem very interested in being in the field.

He grazed a little.

And then he did this. Not comforting to the mom.

I went to talk to him about his attitude.

And got this:

So he got this.

And then we went back to the stall.

Not going to run in the field with the horse any more. Going to have to figure out a way to get him some exercise without running around the field with him. Any suggestions?

I am Afraid and Other Observations

I realized something last night . . . I'm afraid to get on Ashke.

To make that statement make sense I need to share a story. I started riding at four or so, with my mom. (I still have a very clear memory of the black mare she rode named Button who was a beast to mount.) From that point, I wished for my own horse. . . . on every first star, every birthday cake, every Christmas. At eight, my parents got me a shetland pony from my uncle. He was a nasty piece of work who scraped me off under our apple trees the first time I rode him. He bit, kicked, bucked and ran away with his rider. At thirteen, for Christmas, I was given my Appaloosa mare, Queenie. She was my heart and soul for years. We had a great relationship. That relationship is my guidestar for Ashke, based on trust and mutual enjoyment.

That sounds great, doesn't it? So, you ask, why am I afraid?

Because I've been thrown off more times than I can count. I've been kicked and bit and bucked with and I am too damn old to keep hitting the ground. I had my first really serious fall when I was 13 and my last really serious fall in 2006. After the toss in 2006, I spent three years in incredible pain, seeing a chiropractor to fix the damage I had done to my lower back. It was during that time that I told J I was never riding again. And that was my intent. However, that's not how this story has ended.

Two months ago I went riding with L. Her horse VK has a stablemate that gets very little exercise. I was invited to go with them for a ride. Twist was a nice horse, with a damaged leg and significant weight issues. I wondered how I would do onboard. I haven't really ridden since 1994. That's a long time. However, I had no problem swinging up and settling into the saddle. My body remembered even if my mind did not. I had no problems riding, at a walk or trot or canter, although we didn't ride the canter for very long, considering Twist felt like she was laboring. My hands remembered, my legs remembered and my soul remembered.

It's just my mind that's having an issue.

I think about what could go wrong. He could rear and go over backwards and squash me like a grape. He could buck violently and throw me into the fence. Or onto the ground. Or in a manner that would squash my L5 vertebre like a grape. Or he could kick me in the face. None of which he has even attempted to do. This mental image I have of the horse is the opposite of how the horse actually feels.

Must I be clear? This has nothing to do with Ashke and everything to do with my fears.

I have been relatively pain free for two years now, instead of the constant lower back pain I have dealt with since I was young, and especially without the debilitating back pain from the ruputured disc. I also have a 12 year old son with whom I enjoy camping, hiking and general mayhem. I don't want to risk any of that in doing something stupid.

Is there some risk involved in getting on Ashke? Yes. There is always risk, most of which I was blithely ignorant of when I was young. Why else walk your horse across a train tressel just because you can?

Do I think the risk is high in this case? No. I think Ashke hasn't had an issue with anything I have asked of him in the past three weeks. He has behaved exceptionally. Even with the saddle, there has been very little issue. He is a little touchy with the girth, but nothing else.

Do I think I can stay on him if he acts up? Yes, I believe I can. One, I will be ready with countermeasures to redirect his energy if he decides I am trying to eat hiim. It is really difficult to get a good buck on if your head is pinned to your shoulder. Also, I will not have a camera in my right hand, my reins in my left and my feet out of the saddle, thinking about taking a picture of the swans on the lake. (When I was thrown in 2006 all of those things applied.) I will also have a bond with this horse, like my bond with the little black BLM mustang mare when I was 16. She trusted me to get on her back two weeks after being pulled in off the range. I know I have both the skill and the knowledge to do this. Too bad I don't have the body I did when I was 20.

Why am I worried about this now? Because it is easier to work him if I can ride him. I can work him in the arena to turn the weight he is gaining into muscle. I can work him to redirect his energy and attention into learning things he hasn't had the opportunity to learn yet. I can give him a job and teach him to be a great partner with me. I don't see how I can teach him to lunge, when that means teaching him to work away from me. I want him to work with me. I can walk him around, which he really likes, and which I intend to do for at least the next two weeks. But none of that will really address the true issue.

I need to find my trust in myself again. In my ability to ride anything with four legs. To know I can deal with anything a horse can think of doing. After some of the horses in my life, Seabisquit, Sham and Keili to name the top three insane horses I've ridden, dealing with Ashke should be a piece of cake.

I mean, does this horse look like he has an issue?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Woman From Snowy River

My saddle is the Australian style Master Campdraft Deluxe from Down Under Saddlery. I love Aussie saddles and lucked out in getting one from Down Under at a discount. There are a couple of rubs on the leather, but for the most part the saddle looks new. It took a few moments to get the cinch set up correctly. Ashke wasn't real sure of the whole deal, but he did great.

Getting him out of the stall is never an issue. We gave him another mineral block, since he has already demolished one of them. He had poo on both sides of him. Silly boy.

He was happy to see T and easy to groom tonight.

J was disgusted with the poo in his mane. I, however, was very pleased with his skin and how clean he is after I brush him out. It tells me that his skin is getting healthy, since the dirt is no longer embedded in his hair. The poo on his sides brushes out (mostly) at least where he has shed his winter coat.

Ashke is also beginning to lean into the curry comb, enjoying the scrubbing and circles I use when I am loosening the dirt and hair on his skin. He isn't tender on his belly or his back any longer. This is pleasing to me!

Here is the entire family with their hands on the birthday boy. He just stood there and let us love on him.

First time the Aussie saddle is set on his back. There was some fussing, but not much. I don't think I had the saddle far enough forward and it shifted back when he walked since I didn't tighten the girth until we were in the round pen. Even then, he shifted a bit forward, but stopped when asked. No bucking. No kicking. Lipped at me a couple of times and snorted A LOT.

He wasn't at all sure about the girth being tightened, but he stood when asked. Do you see the poo on his mane?

Girth tightened enough that I was no longer worried it was going to slip. He wasn't really excited about it, but walked around the round pen without issue. He did kick at the girth with his hind foot a couple of times (like they do with flies).

We didn't stay out in the round pen for very long. Walked him back to the grooming stall and took the saddle off. Then took him out to the pasture and let him tear around until he had tired himself out. The boy can fly.

And Then We Do This

Last night was a good night at the barn. Ashke was sweet and let my mom feed him cookies. He sure loves the peppermint. I groomed him out and J and mom brushed his mane (which was green, not white) and I picked up all four feet. He did great. He was a little sweaty under the blanket when we got there, so we didn't put it back on. I put the bridle on him, which didn't go as well as I wanted because there was another horse he was paying attention to. His halter was around his neck and didn't give me the control I wanted. Unfortunately. So, instead of slipping the bit into his mouth while he head was lowered, we had a bit of a tussle with his nose in the air. I am not that tall. Eventually, everything was sorted out and he was fine with the bit.

We moved to the arena (there was a line to get into the arena) and worked for only about ten minutes. This is what we did during that time:

His head came up, but he stood still and let me put weight on his back. I ran my hand down his barrel and across the bottom of his belly as far as I could reach.

His head was down but he was listening to me talk to him. He was relaxed and didn't fight me at all.

And then the other side. I think my mom thought I was going to squish him. He wasn't concerned at all about the weight on his back. I have the strongest feeling that riding him is going to be easy.

He is such a sweet boy.

No issues. He just stood there and mouthed his bit.

Okay, that's enough of those pictures. After we left the arena we went outside and turned him out in the pasture. He tore around like a mad man. He ran in circles around me with his nose and tail up. He has such incredible action at the trot. I can't wait to see what he feels like under saddle. Although, I know that I have to. At least, for a another month or so.

Maybe I'm crazy, but it feels like he is ready to be ridden.

Tuesday is his seventh birthday! And we saddle.