Thursday, May 31, 2012

Absolute Joy

I really wish it had been light enough to get video . . .

Last night was a night off for Ashke. We got to the barn about 7ish and turned him out into the field. When I first turned him loose, he flipped his head and nose at me and then shied away. All sass. I laughed and let him settle to eating. J and I sat on the patio and played on our iPhones. Eventually I got cold enough I suggested we drive to Costco and fill up my car. (Driving to the barn daily is certainly increasing the frequency with which I have to fill my car.) She agreed to go. I walked back over to the fence and hollered at Ashke, just checking to see if he was ready to go back in yet. He didn't even raise his head.

We got in the car and drove out, slowing at the edge of the field where Ashke was eating. I once again tried to get his attention and once again he ignored me. I laughed at his attitude and we drove to Costco. Filled up. Drove back. Once again stopped by the edge of the field where he was grazing and this time he raised his head to study us in the car. We drove over and parked by the stable and sat in the car, cuz it was getting cold outside. It was also getting dark.

All of a sudden Ashke tears across the pasture toward the gate. I can see him flipping his head and flagging his tail. I got out to see what was going on. When I got close to the gate, he saw me and started flipping his nose and snaking his neck. I slipped into the field and walked up to him. He let me rub his nose and the side of his head, and then snaked him muzzle around and tried to bite me. (It was a pretty lame attempt. More play than anything serious.) I stepped back and threw my arms up and shouted "HA!"

Ashke snorted and spun, kind of bucking and kicking. I spun the end of the lead rope in a circle around my right shoulder and made a "Psssst!" sound at him. He thought this was delightful. Ashke reared and bucked and then reared again, striking out with both front feet. He was now about 20 yards away. I threw up my arms and yelled at him again.

That did it. He was off. He did the Arabian version of scuttlebutt and tore across the pasture. Then he would turn and race back, jumping the ditch and then sliding to a stop not far from me. Then he would spin and tear off again. After he did that three times or so, he changed it up. He would gallop for all he was worth in a huge circle until he was between me and the barn, then he would change his gait to a high-stepping trot with his head up, chin tucked almost to his chest and his tail flagged. He would trot between me and the fence with one ear turned toward me, and then take off galloping again. He must have ran a circle around me four or five times. Everytime he got between me and the fence I would fake a lunge at him and make the "Psssst" sound. Off he would go.

He finally wore himself out and slid to a stop close to the gate, letting out a huge snort when he stopped. He let me walk right up to him and slide the halter on. He was breathing pretty quickly and had warmed himself up. I walked him back to his stall. He was a perfect gentleman on the way back to the barn.

The thing that got me about last night was his absolute exuberance and joy. Not just about being outside and eating grass, but at being able to run and play with me. Not once did I feel threatened or in danger. He was very careful to be a safe distance away from me when he was acting up. He just felt good and wanted to share his joy. When he first started galloping in big circles, Ashke threw his head up and whinnied. It was his deep-throated, happy whinny he uses when he first hears me in the barn. He wasn't whinnying for another horse, he was sharing his joy with me.

It brings tears to my eyes to know he is happy with this new life.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Learning Quickly

It is good to have a plan. I can see measurable progress with Ashke.

Today he got shoes on and he did great. Grace, the stable manager, held him, since I couldn't be there. (This is probably how its going to be going forward, since the farrier works during the day). His feet look great and the farrier thinks they are just going to improve as we go forward. Ashke stood pretty well for Grace. He acted up a bit with his back right, but the farrier said he was much better than when he was trimmed. My working with his feet daily is working.

The shoes are helping already. Ashke wasn't favoring his feet at all and seemed to be pretty happy once he got used to moving in them. His hooves will look so much better once they have grown out.

 Ashke is doing great with the lunging and then riding plan.

 My trust that he isn't going to try and throw me is growing, but still not 100%.

 We are working out understanding each other and him correctly interpreting my cues.

 This is a pic that T took. He has a great eye.

 Someone pulled their trailer in and Ashke lost all focus.

 For some reason, trailers are a good thing.

Another great pic by T.

Ashke has begun to pick up on his neck reining cues. I'm sure he is ready to be done with the round pen.

He picks up his correct leads. I wish I could say it was training, but I think it was just him.

Tomorrow is rest day. He gets to spend an hour or so in the field eating and being a horse.

Tennessee Walking Horse Torture

Sorry. I had to share. The more people who know about this type of thing, the more difficult it is to continue the behavior.

This video is very hard to watch. I can't believe the lengths trainers will go to in order to win championships. I can't believe people would treat horses this way. And I am so glad Pepsi pulled their sponsorship. Taking the money out is the only way to stop the abuse.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

What Happens When You Have a Plan

When I got to the stable today, I did what I always do: I called out Ashke's name as I walked down the stable aisle. His stall is toward the end and he can hear my footsteps as well as my voice. He did what he usually does and whinnied loudly at me. It makes me smile. I stopped and gave him a couple of carrots on my way to the grooming stalls. The vet, JD, and Grace were tending to a Friesan/QH mare who injured herself a couple of days ago. JD looks up and says, "that horse sure knows your voice." Made me feel all warm and squishy inside.

I groomed him and got the saddle on. It was set correctly for the second day in a row. The saddle pad seems to be making a huge difference. I have to adjust the cinch four times however. The saddle pad has memory foam in it, which has a lot of give. It compresses as it gets warm, so I tighten the cinch in the grooming stall, at the round pen, after he has been working for a bit and finally before I get on him. It has, however, cured any issues I was having with fitting the saddle to his back.

Grooming was easy and he leaned into the brush as I worked the areas that were itchy. Then we moved to the round pen. I worked him for fifteen minutes at the walk, trot and canter.

I want you to know that it takes a lot of work to get him to canter in both directions.

I ran in a circle trying to get him to canter to the point where all I could do was stand with my hands on my knees. He knows exactly how fast I chase him and he moves just a touch faster.

After working him for fifteen minutes from the ground I got on him and we started working in the ring. After about fifteen minutes I started working him in figure eights. He was turning with neck reining pressure. I was able to ride him with much lighter pressure and a loose rein for most of the day.

Ashke stops with the slightest pressure and a whoa.

We worked toward a canter. The first time I got Ashke to canter he only took about four steps before we came to a stop. I praised him and stroked his neck, telling him how proud I was of him. The next time I asked him to canter, we managed a couple of  rounds before stopping him. I praised him again, rubbed his neck, let him know that he was doing exactly what I wanted him to do. J videoed the final time I asked him to canter, which he picked up as soon as I asked him to take the gait.

I was tickled pink. I expected results from my new focus and great plan, but I wasn't expecting them so darn quick. Ashke is exceptional . . . smart, energetic and quick to learn. He didn't try to buck or act up at all.

Afterwards, I removed the tack and we washed him down. Then I turned him out into the field to graze while he dried. I took pictures to commemorate his eighth week with us.

Starting to develop some great muscle. We can still see a touch of ribs, but his butt and shoulder are definitely filling out.

I love this pic! He looks so good here. His neck and top line are getting stronger each week. He loves getting a chance to graze for half an hour or so.

You can see the roan markings in his rump. See how much muscle he has developed in his rump.

Here is a picture of his top line. His spine is filling in and you can see the sweat markings from where the saddle was sitting.

Such a nice butt.

Ashke's Skull and Cross-bones!

Front left shoulder.

Front right shoulder.

Right haunch. More roam markings. Or bay markings.

From behind.

We had a great day. He is such a great horse. It seems like every time I start feeling depressed and in over my head he steps up and changes the tone of the conversation. 

We fed him a handful of carrots and apples and peppermint treats.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

I Need a Plan

I've decided I need a plan. Some structure to the work that I am asking Ashke to do. Some consistency in our workouts and training. Some idea of what I expect and where I want to end up other than "I want to ride him."

Funny that it's taken me five weeks to work this out.

The plan going forward is to lunge Ashke in the round pen for fifteen minutes, in both directions at the walk, trot and canter. I am going to work with him on the verbal cues for each gait. A soft smooch for a walk, a click for a trot, and a loud kiss for a canter. After I am done working him at the lunge, I am going to ride him for thirty minutes and work on the same items. I will focus on transitions between the gaits, and in getting Ashke to canter without fighting me. (We haven't cantered yet.)

Today marks the eighth week Ashke has been with us. There has been a lot good that has happened.

1. Ashke has put on a bunch of weight and continues to gain muscle and tone. His spine is filling in and I can see progress day to day.

2. Grooming is routine and Ashke seems to enjoy it. He isn't crazy about fly spray on his ears. Or water running over his rump. He has entered the wash room but not been washed there. He will lift his feet willingly.

3. Ashke no longer fights the reins. He sometimes reacts like he has been ridden before and I am giving him the wrong cues. I'm hoping the work we do in the round pen corrects that issue.

4. We get his feet worked on again on Tuesday. He is getting shoes on all four feet. I am hoping that the last twinges of tenderness will be gone at that point. Ashke has about two inches of new growth on his hooves. They are going to look so good when they are completely healthy.

5. I finally figured out how to get the saddle on his back correctly. The new saddleblanket I got from Down Under Saddlery (the equipedic) is working very well. The compression marks on Ashke's back are symetrical and even on both sides. There was no slippage today and Ashke seemed much more comfortable.

6. We are still struggling with the nipping, although it has gotten better.

7. I have found someone who will ride the green belt with me. She also has an Arabian. I am hoping that Ashke will be safe enough and comfortable enough to ride out with her.

So, now for some catchup:

Ashke wasn't staying close to the rail when I was lunging him, which I do without a lead rope. The rope was pulling his head around toward me and it was easier to do it without. I borrowed an idea from Mark Rashid and put the cones out to force Ashke to stay on the outside of them. He picked up on it pretty quick.

This was Thursday night. T got to ride after I was finished working Ashke.

Ashke handled it pretty well considering how dark it was. We even trotted one length of the arena.

Here is Ashke working the round pen on the outside of the cones.

He didn't like T hanging from the top of the crossbar on the gate. Aren't the purple boots awesome?

And at the canter.

I tried the field for exactly two minutes, but Ashke was way to edgy. The wind was beginning to pick up and he was getting unsettled. I decided not to push my luck.

There is something about the field that makes him crazy. And me scared.

We moved back to the big arena and worked there for another twenty minutes or so.

It was hot and he was sweaty. It had also been a week since his last bath. I washed him. He hates the water running over his rump. 

After the wash we put him out into the field to eat while he dried off. Susan, the woman who might ride out on the green belt with me, put her mare in the field with Ashke. They tore around for a bit and then they settled down and grazed. 

Over all, I pretty good day.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

An Easy Day

Last night was Ashke's day off. We went out and turned Ashke loose in the pasture and let him eat for an hour. Fed him treats. Gave him love.

Tonight was an easy night. I think he was a bit sore and seemed to be stiff as well. I am planning on calling the farrier tomorrow and seeing if I can get him out sooner to put shoes on him. Between the rapid hoof growth and the increased exercise, I think it is warranted. Also, he paws when he eats or when he is in his stall and the front part of his hoof is worn down.

We worked in the round pen for about 20 minutes. He did not want to canter.

Ashke is really good at stopping when I say "Whoa."

He was very stiff on the right side. I keep reminding myself that he is very much out of shape, so we took it easy tonight.

What a pretty face, my boy has.

He was watching me put the carriage whip away. 

We rode around the round pen a couple of times but it was obvious the boy was stiff.

And sleepy.

We walked and trotted around the outside of the big arena. Ashke is getting much better at moving from a trot to a walk without stopping first. And going to a trot from a walk without fighting me. He hasn't tried to throw me since Friday night.

After our light ride, I took him back in and gave him a pretty good massage in his haunches. It must have felt good because he kept leaning into my hands. I rubbed him with horse liniment to help with the stiffness. The last time I did that it made a huge difference. I don't want him to be sore, but the only way to work through this type of discomfort is to continue to move. Albeit gently.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Piece of Heaven

Today, my friend L brought her horse over to the stable to ride with me and Ashke. You remember L? She and her husband were instrumental in helping me save Ashke. Without them, he would have died in Amarillo because I would have had no hope of bringing him home. We planned to meet at noonish, which gave J and I time to run the flat tire on my Camry to Sears for repair. We left the tire there and went to the stables.

Ashke was completely covered on one side with poo. His coat was pooish brown-green with chucks of manure sticking to him. I did what any smart person would have done and took him immediately to the wash rack. He hates to have his rump washed and that is always one of the worse spots in terms of poo. We washed him until he sparkled. It's been seven weeks since we brought him home. I still can't believe the changes in him!

Remember this?
Our first day at the stables.

Today at the stables after our ride.

Can you see the progress he is making along his spine and across the top of his rump?

Can you see the muscle gain in his rump, stifle and gaskin? (back legs) I haven't stood directly behind him and looked at his butt in a while. I can definitely see gain in mass there.

And then there is also his front. I can see gains in his chest, shoulder and neck. 

So, to update progress since Friday night, at which time we had biting of calf muscle and throwing of rider. Saturday it was raining and very overcast. I worked Ashke in the round pen, getting him used to turning and moving when asked. He doesn't walk much in the round pen, working mostly at the trot and some canter. He learned to move off in the direction I indicated by pointing with an outstretched arm and to stay in the gait he was asked to work in until I gave him a verbal cue to slow down. We did this in both directions. When I ask him to stop he stands quietly until I approached him. I gave him rubs and told him what a good boy he was. At one point he reached back to nip me. Without hesitation I swung my fist into his ribs and thumped him pretty good. Ashke took off again around the arena and was encouraged to canter and fast trot for several rounds before being asked to stop. He hasn't tried nipping either J or myself since then. Huzzah for progress.

After lunging him on Saturday, I put him away without riding him. I wanted to emphasize what we were working on in the round pen and to solidify the new expectations. He got peppermint candies, which he has now figured out how to crunch in his teeth, and carrots, a winning combination.

On Sunday, after washing the poo from his coat, I tacked up Ashke. We went to the round pen and worked for about twenty minutes. Ashke has no problem cantering counterclockwise in the round pen, but struggles to remain at a canter when working in the opposite direction. This time I left the stirrups off so they wouldn't smack his elbows. I mounted him in the round pen for a short workout about the time L got there with her trailer. We worked in both directions for just a couple of minutes, but in that time there was no head tossing, no protest past an occasional flick of his tail.

L pulled her truck and trailer around by the big arena to unload VK. When Ashke saw the trailer he let out a huge whinny. I really think he recognized it. I got off him and walked him out of the round pen and over to the trailer. He and VK took to each other like long lost twins. Ashke thought he was the neatest thing he's seen in a month of Sundays. VK was tacked up and L brought him into the arena. We rode around the arena for maybe ten minutes. During that time Ashke didn't fight with me, didn't buck, didn't do anything but listen well and ride with his new friend. 

We walked and trotted a bit before we got bored.

Best of friends already.

It was the first time I have seen Ashke relax. His head came down and he just relaxed into the ride.

It took a little bit for Ashke to learn it was okay to be close to VK. It felt like he was worried he was going to get bit. He started a bit touchy, but got more comfortable as we continued to ride.

L and I have matching helmets. I don't feel so fashion conscious now!

Can you believe VK is 19? He looks great, although he is having some issues with his left hock and arthritis. I find it incredibly sad that L and I can finally ride together and her horse is going lame. However, we went fairly slow today and VK seemed to do okay. I am, also, pretty pleased with my posture while riding Ashke. I look balanced, with my legs tucked in and my shoulders square. I swear that the only time I have good posture is when I am on a horse.

After about ten minutes or so in the arena we decided to mix it up and go to the pasture. I got off and walked Ashke over to where the pasture was and found that there were two horses out grazing. I got back on (L was still on VK) and we walked a small circle around the lawn and then I suggested we try a small greenbelt Chris had told me about.

We walked out of the stable yard, turned left on 149th and went the length of the pasture to Pecos, where we turned right. Pecos is closed at that point. We walked south down Pecos about half a block to where the closed road signs were. There was an entrance to the greenbelt that snaked between the fields and houses and turned to the left toward 144th. The footing was grass and in some places dirt.

It was quite exciting. The greenbelt was about 20' wide, fenced on both sides, and looked into a series of really nice backyards. There were motorhomes to snort at, boats to look at funny, a kite from Costco, with long yellow streamers, and lots of barking dogs. We only had two real startles and both times Ashke startled spraddle legged and took a good look at what was going on. He didn't try to buck or run or bolt. He just startled. We walked around the circle until we reached Pecos almost at 144th. We turned north again and made our way back to the stable. It was enough for VK. And Ashke was pretty warm, but not too hot. During the entire ride, Ashke had his ears up, snorting softly, and led the way for VK. He has a nice, fast walk when we are out of the arena.

It was wonderful. The company, the way that VK and Ashke liked each other, the way Ashke listened and did what he was asked, and being able to ride outside the arena. All of those things were wonderful. L and I talked about the next time she goes to Bear Creek we think Ashke will be ready to go. 

I plan on continuing the training in the round pen and would love to get to the point where I am comfortable riding Ashke in any gait I wanted. I am hoping to be able to canter him sometime in the next couple  of weeks. Tomorrow, is his day of rest.

I can't believe how much better I feel about the whole situation. There is hope in abundance today.

Friday, May 18, 2012

For an Encore . . .

Tonight I went to the stable by myself. J and T opted to stay home and hang out, it being Friday and all, and they were both tired after a busy week. I wanted to work Ashke and I also wanted to see if our little disagreement from last night had any effect.

I guess when I first started thinking about getting a horse I really wanted to recreate the relationship I had with Queenie. She was so easy and calm. I was fearless. She was only three and although she had been ridden a little bit, she wasn't trained. I spent a ton of time riding in the snow, that first winter, teaching her to neck rein, learning to connect with one another. I was pretty much her only rider from the time I was 13 to the time I was 24. We had the kind of connection that allowed me to think about what I wanted to do and she did it.  That was the type of relationship I envisioned when I thought about getting a horse.

Of course, when I thought about getting a horse I expected to pick and choose from amongst the cream of the crop. I wanted to make a smart decision. I wanted a young gelding, well-handled, good ground manners, and a positive attitude. Instead, the universe took that decision away from me by giving me a neglected, starved, seven year old. The only similarity was the gelding part.

I guess I should have recognized that things were going too easy and been more careful.

Tonight, I rode Ashke in the round pen for ten minutes or so. He was very calm. We moved to the big arena and he was still calm. We rode circles in both directions at a walk and a trot. There was no tossing of his head, no head shaking, no striking out. He felt relaxed and calm. I decided to move to the field and ride there for the rest of the night.

Ashke started as soon as we walked into the field. When I went to mount he turned his head and tried to eat my calf. Since I was in the act of pulling myself into the saddle, there was little I could do. Once I got settled, I pried his teeth out of my leg and we set off across the field. Fifteen feet into the field Ashke started to fight me. He was trying to bolt. Trying to buck. Trying everything. And a few minutes later he managed to toss me out of the saddle. I knew it was going to happen a couple of seconds before I was tossed (my stirrups were way to long for a serious buck) and I was able to land without injuring myself. I wasn't happy though.

I know people say you need to get right back on. I didn't. I went to the round pen and we learned to lunge.

Mark Rashid said in his book Nature in Horsemanship, that sometimes reaching harmony between a horse and rider looks different to the horse than the rider may want it to. I don't know about Ashke, but I would say it looks a bit different to me now.

Ashke cantered in a circle for a good fifteen minutes. He didn't squeel but he snaked his head, tossed it around, bucked and kicked as he tore around. We went in both directions at a canter. There were a couple of times when I had to snap the whip at his hind quarters, but he got the idea pretty quick. He cantered and trotted in both directions until he was pretty sweaty. When he changed directions I would talk to him, pet his nose and tell him he was a good boy. Then off he would go the other direction.

After he had finally calmed down, no longer kicking or striking out, I stopped him, put the reins back on his bridle and then rode him in the round pen in both directions. He was very calm and did what I asked without issue. I only did a couple of rounds in both directions and then took him into the stable. I unsaddled him and then rinsed him off. After that I walked him around until he was cool and almost dry. Then he went back to his stall and got a handful of treats.

My only regret is that I didn't take the stirrups off my saddle. One of them clocked him behind the elbow on his left leg. It left a small gash there. I was it clean and it wasn't too much more than missing skin. Of course, it could have happened when he tossed me. All I know is that I found it when I took him into the stable.

Maybe if I had gotten him at a younger age, before he had been left to stand in a field of dirt for two years, before he had been chased around with ATV's, before he had been sent to the cowboy trainer with one arm and no real horse sense who proclaimed him unbreakable, before he had been starved and neglected, before he had stood in mud and manure shaking with the cold while the people who were responsible for him stood around and laughed; maybe then I could have worked him in peace and quiet and achieved harmony without forcing my will over his. Unfortunately, I am not 20 any more and can't afford to be thrown in an effort to train him in the manner my heart really wants. Instead, I'm going to work him in the round pen on the lunge line. I'm going to teach him his gaits and work some of the steam out of him. I'm going to show him how to achieve a working/loving relationship with me that includes being ridden in a manner that is safe and fun for both of us. Perhaps then he will figure out that biting isn't acceptable. (Silly boy should be past the toddler stage, but obviously not.) I don't want a horse that is going to stand around in the stable and eat his head off. I want a horse that is going to be a partner in my endurance adventure. I think Ashke has the willingness and attitude for it, now I just need to get him trained.

I guess we will see how he is tomorrow. . .

Thursday, May 17, 2012

So Upset

I cried all the way home.

Not good for an adult woman who has survived all of the things that I've survived to be reduced to tears by a horse.

He bit me. I'm not happy. I didn't want a horse that bites. The only horse I have ever worked with that bit was Sham and he was walking dog food, I swear. Ashke bites and has been doing this for awhile, because when he bites he throws his head up as if he is used to being smacked. I, for the most part, have been trying to keep out of his way and not give him the opportunity to bite. He's pretty quick though and he bit me on the arm tonight as I was letting him graze. I lost my temper and smacked him across the nose, then shanked his lead rope and backed him up across the parking lot while yelling at him. When I led him back into his stall I removed all of his carrots from his feed bin because I was still angry. He was very apologetic, but I think it was more because he knew I was angry and not because he knows he shouldn't bite.

Before that, we had a fairly decent night. He didn't fight much and is beginning to turn nicely when asked. He is still sticky when turning to the right, but does the left well. He stops pretty quick when asked.

He is still favoring his right front foot a little bit. There is no heat or swelling, I think it just gets tired quicker than the others.

We worked for about 40 minutes at the walk and the trot. He is still squirrelly enough that I'm not ready to push the trot.

He is beginning to develop muscle. At the end of our workouts he is warm and the blood vessels are standing out under his skin.

His barrel is slimming and he is putting muscle on across his back. His chest is developing. We are definitely making progress.

See how strong his neck is looking. It almost has a crest.

He has a great running walk/slow trot thing that he does. Its going to be a great gait for endurance.

Almost seven weeks of loving care, good food and stimulating experiences. . . . and then he bites me!

I made need to rethink this.