Monday, March 31, 2014

Cantering

I walked up to Ashke's stall and he was hanging out outside in his run. I spoke to him and watched him focus on me, then his nostrils fluttered and he bellowed his greeting.

He had stopped whinnying at me. He had stopped being happy to see me. He had stopped wanting to work.

He really needed to work on something else. And he needed to be outside.

Even in a saddle that isn't perfect anymore, he is much happier being outside and finally being able to canter with me.

We did four sets of three or four circles in the upper half of the outdoor arena in each direction. He was so relaxed and picked up the correct lead everytime I asked. We walked in between sets. I really think he would rather canter than trot. He was very foamy at the end from working the bit. And warm but not sweaty.

I have decided that riding in this bit makes me feel more confident in my ability to control his speed at the canter. I also wield the reins in one hand, which frees up the other hand to hold on when I feel the need, and Ashke loves not being forced to put his head really low. I am no longer trying to catch my balance on his mouth. More importantly, I trust that he wants to do what I am asking him to do. We need to work a little bit on him accepting contact without trying to slide stop, especially when transitioning down from the canter. I think we will figure it out pretty quick though.

I have a secret. I covet the hill that Saiph is able to do hill sets on. It isn't too steep, and has good footing. Today, I discovered that Ashke and I have a hill similar to Saiph's hill between TMR and Shiloh (barn next door). It is the access road for North Table Mountain, and there was a woman doing hill sets tonight. I want to try it on Wednesday. We might need to start with trotting up and walking down until we have figured out that there are not killer bunnies laying in ambush anywhere. Then, we will move onto trot down and canter up. It will be great conditioning and give us a straight away to canter on.



New Browbands




"Eye of the Tiger"
Bright silver, Black, Blue and Amethyst
Modeled by Pico




"Arrows"
For Amanda at Keeping it Low Key

In Red

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Dread

I have had a growing sense of dread of going to the barn for the past six weeks. I feel like Ashke has been dreading seeing me as well. This struggle to ride him has consumed me with both dread and despair.

The 7th saddle did not work. At all. We took it back this morning. So, the tally is: Master Campdraft Aussie saddle, one Long Reach Endurance Aussie saddle, one Kimberley Crossover Aussie saddle, one all-purpose Wintec 250, one Wintec 500, one Cliff Barnsby, one Collegiate, one Arabian Endurance saddle, one Adam Ellis, two different Isabell Wintec saddles, and the Trekkerland. Plus my Alta Escuela that is on order.

I decided that if his back is going to hurt then it will hurt in a saddle we both like. I went back to the Trekkerland. Two reasons. I figure it is only really bothering him when I am asking him to collect with his back or if we ride for extended periods of time. I cut back one flake of hay a day about three weeks ago and he has lost some weight. The combination of those two things might make the saddle useable until the Alta gets here. (Thank goodness the dogs chewed up a billet or I would have sold it already.) So today, I grabbed my trepidation in both hands and took J with me to the barn.

Before we went to the barn, however, I went to the feed store and found a new bit. I wanted a low curb that I could ride Ashke one handed in. The thought process is this: I have spent six months teaching him to listen to my leg and my voice and my hand. We have worked on getting closer to each other. I have asked him to strengthen parts of his body that needed to be strengthened, but neither of us wants to do pure dressage. Working Equitation has a dressage part, but I need a different bit to ride in a competition. If we are in a Spanish saddle, we would wear Spanish attire and we need a different bit. With the help of a very nice and knowledgeable gentleman at the feed store, I settled on this:

It is a 4 and 3/4 Mylar bit, with a low port and roller. It is shaped very similarly to the bit he rides in already. It is sweet iron inlaid with copper. 

I also got a black biothane headstall and reins to put the bit on. The only issue is the browband is too wide and I need to replace it with one of my own. I am leaning to the new design I am working on right now, or the mountain range I made for Saiph.

He loved the bit. Even better I think than the Raised Rockin' S bit we've been riding in. Of course, I didn't ask him to collect as much as I was when we were practicing dressage, which made both of us much happier.

See?

 He was really hesitant at first, expecting the saddle to hurt.


He listened very well and there was no fighting.


We cantered a lot in both directions. 


He kept his head at a decent level. And I could really feel the power coming from his butt.


Once he figured out I wasn't going to pester him to keep his head down, he relaxed and moved so light and together with me.


I think we will be even better together when I get the Alta, since it should provide better leg and seat position.


My new favorite picture


The really funny thing is that there were a couple of reining horses in the arena when we first started and they were doing slide stops. After watching them for a bit, Ashke waited until I said whoa while we were cantering and then he tried to slide stop.


He was very foamy.


He was so much happier today. 

This was where I was happy with his head. He was moving well beneath me with light contact. He wasn't on the forehand, and he felt very responsive under me.






We cantered in both directions for many circuits of the arena. There was one time where we were going to the right and he wanted to rush, but the slightest touch on the reins brought him back to a nice canter. He was a little sweaty when we were done.


I was very happy when we were done. I can't wait to ride him again tomorrow.

MJ stopped me and asked about the saddle. We started talking about his issues and she suggested a laser treatment to help with his back pain. I went ahead and scheduled a laser treatment to see what the issues are in his back and right hip. Hopefully it will help eliminate any damage I might be doing. I'm wondering if there is any scar tissue or muscle scarring that can be released with the laser. We will see.

J and I also talked to the BM about setting up some obstacles for both de-spooking (parelli stuff like a car wash and tarps and fan cavaletti) and obstacles for Working Equitation. I am going to see about meeting with Rachel and the other trainers to discuss where we can start building them and when.  I'm really excited to be able to practice with the obstacles, plus the BM is talking about doing a series where we end up riding to the top of the Mesa for a picnic lunch on the last day. 

I am very pleased with how responsive Ashke was to my requests today to canter at a relaxed, put together pace. We have something we can work with now. And I felt so much lighter with him than I have been in the past few weeks or months. I am satisfied that our time in the indoor arena and lessons with Cassandra has taught us a lot. Since I'm not interested in showing in dressage, except for the dressage test in Working Eq, I find myself looking forward to working through the obstacles with my boy. He will love it because he loves learning new stuff.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Seven

So far, to date, I have owned seven saddles and tried three others.

From everyone I've talked to, this is a normal progression of the saddle fitting process.

When I took the Isabell back to Dover the woman who helped me kindly suggested I look elsewhere for a saddle to suit me. I think she was tired of me returning saddles. I was okay with that, mainly because I was tapped out on the Wintec, and they were the only saddles Dover carried that I was willing to spend the money on for what is going to amount to a second, backup saddle.

I was feeling very defeated.

I drove to Down Under Saddlery, because they have a fancy bareback pad that has stirrups on it. I have a very hard time getting down off of Ashke without some type of stirrup because of my issue with my right leg. I had a real hard time getting out of the Isabell, because the cantle is so high. It helps to be able to stand in the stirrup and swing my leg over, rather than roll forward onto my stomach and slid my leg across. Doing it the slide way results in incredible pain. I was not real impressed with the bareback pad. The seat and stirrups were velcroed on and I was unconvinced. It was on sale and I decided something was better than nothing and told the guy I would take it.

While he was in the back grabbing one for me, I started looking at the used saddles. I found an Aussie style saddle with western wool flocked panels in a wide, with a 17" seat (18" for English and 15" for Western). I can remove the western fenders and use my English leathers and stirrups (which I like better). And there is no horn. The polleys are fairly big and I felt very secure in the seat. Because this saddle is considered a crossover (Aussie bred with Western) the stirrup leathers hang straight down and are not tilted out in front of the saddle. I'm hoping this holds true when I put the English stirrups on it, because it will hold my leg in a much better position. Finally, there is no overgirth, which I think works better, because the overgirth really focused the pressure in a specific spot, and this type of girthing should distribute it better. It is cinched with a Western rope girth to a single billet strap, which seems kind of weird.

When the gentleman came walking out of the back with the bareback pad, I asked him if the crossover was a wide. He said yes and we pulled it out. I ran to my car and grabbed the back-mapping wires I had thrown back there (fortune favors the prepared or the stupid lucky. Whatever.) I raced back in and we turned the saddle over. The roll of the saddle matched Ashke's back almost perfectly. The wires at each spot (every four inches) matched the lay of the saddle really well. I am feeling very confident that the fit will be very good. And the best thing was the saddle was less than $500 (when did less than 500 become a exciting number? Have you priced dressage saddles lately? Yeah, $500 is a great price.) The gentleman helping me pulled another one out and had me try it as well, but it had a horn and the channel for clearance over his spine was not as wide as the first saddle. I liked the panels better in the first one as well. The first saddle also has double fenders which will allow me to remove the fender attached to the stirrup and use the English stirrups instead. So, I got it.

For the first time since I began to suspect the Trekker was failing us, I am excited to go to the barn. I have been fighting the pull of inertia and the desire to not deal. As much as I would like to like dressage saddles, it's not really what I want to ride in. I have really enjoyed learning dressage and I know that I want to continue to learn with Cassandra, but I don't feel comfortable in a dressage saddle. If it had worked for Ashke, I would have learned to ride in it, but it's not the style I want to ride in. I think there is too much cowboy in my soul. I want to do Working Eq, and both the Alta and this crossover will allow me to feel secure as we are doing the obstacles. Speaking of which, I need to talk to Rachel about building a course. . . .

I have everything I can crossed in the hope that this saddle works for both of us. Please send a prayer, or light a candle, or send a positive thought my way that the light at the end of this tunnel is not a commuter train being driven by an idiot on his iPhone.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

TBT


Second bath after getting him home

Saddle Redacted

First, I apologize for not doing TTTT today, but I have a ton of work that is preventing me from spending time crafting a tale. It's too bad too, since I had a great one. Maybe Saturday I will do a late TTTT, so if you like reading my stories, keep an eye open.

To the saddle.

HE HATES IT!!!!

I had it on his back for fifteen minutes last night and he tried to dump me twice. I got off after the second try and lunged him at a canter for 30 minutes. Then rode for maybe two minutes more before giving up. The crowhopping in the crossties on Monday was not an aberration. The saddle hurts his back more than any of the other saddles I've tried.

N questioned whether he is behaving that way because he wants out of work, but I don't think horses work that way. At least not Ashke. He didn't behave that way on our last ride in the Trekker, even though it rubbed the hair off his back over his loins. He still did eight miles for me with a good attitude. And except for our second ride EVER, when I took him around the lake and he dumped me on the way home, he hasn't tried bucking on me at all. And even last night when he was letting me know in the only language he knows that the saddle wasn't going to work, he could have had me on the ground and he didn't. So much as one more stride and I would have tasted dirt. He stopped instead.

I have to honor that.

I think the issue is the CAIR system. It uses plastic squares as flocking material. Can I just say, WTF??!?!?! What brainaic thought of that? I know Ashke is a Princess, but really.



So, until the Alta Escuela gets here, I will lunge him in sidereins to strengthen his back. We will work on trot-canter-trot transitions to get him stronger and his back more developed, so that when the saddle does get here, we are able to do that gait without issue. I'm also going to get a bareback pad with stirrups to ride. We can walk and trot and do lateral work with a bareback pad. It will be good for me.

Because I am not going to be able to ride as much or as energetically, I started walking yesterday during my lunch period at work. I walked a mile and a half up the mountain across from work. It's a nice little hiking trail, but I was hyper aware of the possibility of a snake and scared myself silly spooking at a piece of strapping that looked like a snake skin to my exercise addled brain.




Doesn't that look like a snake to you?





Monday, March 24, 2014

Saddle

Isabell Wintec

Easy change gullet, my ass.

I had Cassandra check the saddle tonight. It was too tight. I gave her the measuring guide and she told me to go to the red gullet (wide) from the black gullet it came with (medium). I did. It was too wide. So she had me change to the blue gullet (medium-wide).  Each of those changes took 45 minutes to do and Dessa had to help me with the screws the second time, since there was no leverage to move the pieces back into place. That meant Ashke stood in the crossties for over 2 hours before the saddle was even on.

My 24" fleece girth was too short, so I borrowed the 26" leather girth that I got when I bought the Trekkerland WHICH HE HATES. (I had traded it to Cassandra). I have a 26" fleece girth, but it's at home in my basement. When I went to tighten it he was already pissed and he threw a little hissy fit in the crossties, bucking and kicking and squeeling.  I managed to grab the second girth strap and loosen it before he managed to kick down the barn. At the end of that fiasco, I was shaking and having to explain to Cassandra and the BM why the racket was going on.

After that little fit, I grabbed the lunge line and took him to the arena, where I let him express himself in a circle around me at a solid, non-stop canter for a good fifteen minutes. Then I climbed on and we walked and trotted around the arena. I was trying a new bit, since the Raised Rocking S bit is illegal in the dressage arena. It was a loose ring, french link, Sprenger KK bit. He did real well in it. He seemed better after our lunge and was very willing under saddle. I can feel more of what is going on in his body with the Isabell. And I posted ALL OF THE TROTTING. This is a major accomplishment for me. I wasn't exposed to posting when I rode at all of my younger ages, and posting with my strained back has been impossible.

I still feel guilty about actually owning three saddles though. The Trekker is fixed and will be staying with Bev for retail on Saturday. I can't afford to risk bringing it home for a chew toy for the dogs again. It's just easier at this point to have her keep it and resell it at a show. My only other consideration is do I keep the Isabell or resell it once I have the Alta? My practical self says resell it and pay down the credit card, the other part of me says keep it to do dressage in.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Barn

Today I went out to try out the Isabell.

Before I went to the barn, however, we went to the big hardward store that requires a penis to shop at, or to be taken seriously, and purchased a 50 gallon Stanley mobile tool chest. It even has a tray in it. It can be locked with the keys that come with it or you can lock one corner with a padlock. I need to get the key on my keychain and start locking up my stuff. I'm going to give N the second key in case she needs anything I have stored in there.

Then we took the pups to the dog park in Golden. They had a blast playing with Lou and the ten other dogs that showed up. Lily and Skittle are becoming very socialized and there were a couple of snaps, but no madness. Neither of them had ever been outside their house when we brought them home at 10 weeks. They didn't know what grass was and are much more comfortable going on concrete then on dirt. The dog park has helped with this issue. They were much more relaxed when dogs were coming into the park, and Lily only had an issue with one guy who had a boating hat on his head. He was very nice and took it off. She wouldn't approach him, but she did stop barking at him. This is progress. They are such a mix of timid and protective that they must be socialized correctly to prevent them reacting out of terror. The people who bred them did them no favors in not introducing them to lots of people. We have been working on it, but it's still a work in progress.

 Did you say park? (Lily)


Now? Are we going now?

After the park, J took the dogs home and I went to the barn. The plan was to clean out my current area and move the extraneous stuff into the new box. It gave me a chance to clean out and sort through all of my stuff, organize it into sections in the new box, and clean my grooming kit. I've decided that I am going to start treating Ashke's hooves with the Farrier's Fix as a preemptive move to keep him from getting foot sore this spring. It. Took. All. Day. 

Granted N has a lot of stuff, but really, I mean, it took all day. We swept. We went through everything. Found a sealed bucket of treats. (N) Found three bottles of shampoo. (Me.) Found three or four blankets that hadn't been touched or moved in a year and made a stack so people could take responsibility for their stuff. Ended up moving a bunch of saddle pads and unused tack to N's trailer or my house, and was very pleased with the result. I should have taken a picture. Maybe tomorrow night.

I knew I wasn't going to get a ride in, but I at least wanted to try the Isabell on his back and see if I needed to change the gullet. It fit without adjustment. I had Michelle check it for me and she said it fit very well. I put the stirrup leathers on the stirrups. Then I put it away. I will try it tomorrow night.

We let Cali and Ashke run in the outdoor arena. Ashke was moving so fast he was actually outrunning Cali up the line. He was racing her and kept kicking her butt. He had his tail flagged straight up in the air and was moving fast. This was the first time he's done this. Cali got a little pissed about it and tried to cheat, but even when she took off first and he had to cut across the arena to catch up, he out ran her. He can change a lead by changing the lean of his body. No cross cantering. Fifteen minutes of pure cardio. 

I noticed how flat and strong his back looks when he moves. Almost time to have Elizabeth come out and take pictures of the two of them together.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Dover

The new Wintec AP 250 saddle does not work. Ok, it will work if ALL I do is walk around the arena for twenty minutes on a loose rein. It will not work if I do walk-trot, trot-canter transitions, lateral work or ask for any collection. When I took the saddle off on Friday night, it was pretty obvious it was not fitting his back correctly. Looking at the saddle and his back, at a minimum the channel is too narrow. And the AP saddle is jutting forward over his shoulder. It's just not a great fit.

On Saturday, I tried the Wintec 500 dressage saddle S from the barn has. It was not a good fit. When it was positioned to fit in the withers it jutted up in the back and the channel was just as narrow. The fit got worse when I tightened the cinch. I took it off and figured I was SOL, planning on spending the next five weeks spending all of our time lunging in side reins and maybe riding bareback a little. I had talked to J about taking the Wintec back and getting a bareback pad.

On an suggestion from Cassandra, I tried Westley's Isabell dressage saddle by Wintec. It fit very well and has a strap that can be tightened in the girth that fits the back of the saddle to the shape of the horse. The Isabell can be flocked to fit the horse's back and has a gullet changing system that's pretty simple to use. With the one I tried today, it took just a couple of minutes to tighten the saddle to fit Ashke's back.


I tried Ashke in the arena and he moved very freely. He was much softer in my hands and didn't struggle to collect. We did lateral movements and he stepped with ease in both directions. Our brief canter was very good. The first time both N and Cassandra said I looked tense. I told Cassandra it was because she was watching me. The second time, I could feel myself struggling to breathe and so started to sing, "La, la, la " to the tune in my head no one else can hear. That canter was very good. Mostly, I rode around in the saddle trying to get used to the position the dressage saddle puts me in and evaluating the effect on my back. All of my trot work was done while posting today. Something I haven't been able to do. I think the dressage saddle kind of encourages the rider to post. I'm hoping it's easier to sit the trot in the Alta Escuela. It is good for me to do the extra work, though.

It's funny, ever since I did some research on lower back pain, ruptured discs, and the risk of surgery or paralysis and discovered the fear I have been running from for the past eight years is not a valid fear. The pain in my lower back, which is caused by weak, unused or overused muscles, has been less severe.  I have been bracing against the pain and to protect that part of me and my back is incredibly stiff. I have put a lot of energy into moving differently, in stretches and in relaxing those muscles. It has definitely helped for me to not be so scared of moving and testing the limits of my back.

I will be sore tomorrow. Good thing I have Rocky Mountain Rider's Rescue Rub to help. I got my order today. This stuff is golden for muscle pain. I highly recommend it.

After riding, N and I went to Dover. We took back the Wintec AP saddle and gullet part to exchange for the Isabell. I was not expecting the price tag, but the Isabell is easy to sell and retains it's value, so it wasn't a bad investment. The people at Dover were wonderful and didn't even ask any questions. It is a saddle I could show in if I ever get to that point, or a saddle I can sell when the Alta gets here if I so desire. At least for the next five weeks I will be able to ride and the saddle with force me and my muscles to step up and get stronger. My only question is: how did I come to own three saddles? I also got a bottle of Vetrolin White n Brite shampoos (convinced the one I had was almost empty, a couple of lik-its and a bottle of Meg-Tec for his mane and tail. J is demanding that we allow his mane to grow back out again. The Meg-Tec should help.

I've decided that the battle with my weight is over. If I can ride and learn and progress and Ashke can do that with me without injuring himself, then my weight does not matter. I'm tired of worrying about it. I make decent choices about food. I exercise more now than two years ago. I am active and filled with energy. I'm no longer chained by my fear and anguish about my back. I am going to continue to work on learning to post and to ride for longer periods of time. Our average rides are now an hour and a half to two hours. I'm going to continue to progress at the canter. And I might, might, do a schooling show before the end of the year (one where what I wear won't end up costing me a paycheck.) To that end I threw away the scale.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

TTTT: I Love Camping

The names have been changed to protect me, basically.

It started out as a normal camping trip. We had friends driving up from the Springs to go camping at Vedauwoo. You remember Vedauwoo?



The plan was for our friends, let's call them Rachel and Loolie, to leave the Springs at about 4 and reach our place before 6. That would give us time to get up to Wyoming and set up camp before dark. We planned on cooking dinner up there, so had no other plans.

They were almost to our exit about 8:45 pm. Almost three hours later than expected. We were starving and snarling hungry. We headed up the highway about 30 minutes before them, telling them to catch us, since we were going to need to stop and eat. We hit a food place just off the highway at about 9, then got back on the road, still in front of them, and blazed for Wyoming.

We should have seen that as an omen.

When we hit the turn-off for Vedauwoo, they were only a few minutes behind us. We waited at the entrance for them and then they followed us back to the camping spot. I had, at that point, been camping in the same place for 10 years. It was just down the hill from where we camp now. We had dug out a three foot by four foot by four foot firepit, that I religiously emptied of trash and beer bottles and spent shotgun shells every year. (Hunters, or just good ole' Wyoming boys). It was topped with flat rock we had salvaged from the area and was big enough to hold a person. I had confiscated a rack from an old heating cabinet when I worked at Taco Bell, which fit across the top of the firepit, providing a stable place to cook on. We stored the rack and a rake under a rock at the campsite which no one ever found. There was a dream catcher woven into the branches of our favorite tree, the one J's cat loved to climb when we took him camping. This was our home away from home and we treated it as such.

The first time I took J there we started with setting up tents and then I went to gather firewood. She climbed down into the firepit to start a fire. It was a great minimalist fire with a flame about two inches high. I came back into camp with a huge armful of wood to see her proudly displaying her little fire (maybe six inches in diameter). She beamed at me that she had a fire going. I looked down into the pit and said, "Oh, so cute. That's not a fire." I dropped my entire armful of firewood into the hole. It blazed up. "That's a fire."

I really have no idea why she married me.

And now you know why the hole was so deep. And why we raked the area clear of fuel. And why we carry tons of extra water. I like big fires and I can not lie. But, we never have a fire when the fire danger is high, we never have a fire without extra water, we always rake the coals and drown them, and we never have a fire when the wind is high. I have no desire to burn down my beloved forest.

It was my special place. It was the only placed we camped or had camped for years. It was the first place we took T camping and I knew it was safe. It was perfect.

That night, at 11:30 pm, when we hit the turn off there was a saw horse up, kind of half over the road. It had a little piece of caution tape fluttering from one end. We stopped and looked at it. I double-checked the sign that was posted at the entrance. They close that area from March until the end of May because mommy moose like to have their babies there. It was supposed to open on the day we were driving in. After talking about it, I decided it hadn't been moved by the Forest Service and the road was actually open. We drove back to our camping site. There was no one else camping along the road, but that didn't really make an impression on me.

Now, when we first started camping there the access road was open, although there was a gate up. Two years before this trip, FS had closed the access because the good ole' boys were going down into the meadow at the end of the road and mudding. It became our common practice to drive down to the camp site, unload all of our stuff and then take the truck back up to the outside of the fence. We knew we were in violation of the Forest Service limitations, but it caused minimal impact and we were basically lazy. At that point I had a 18 quart cast iron dutch oven, a griddle, two frying pans and a small pie baker. That's about 200 lbs of cast iron. This time was no different. We unloaded, got the lanterns lit and then drove the truck back up.

We got the tent up and the boy and cat settled (yes, we camped with Taz until we got the dogs. We got the dogs for protection and warning. Taz was sad until he got to old to enjoy it.) Exhausted and frustrated, we crashed.

The next morning I was up with the sun. I gathered firewood and started a fire. J and I started coffee, then began breakfast. Loolie (who we really didn't like, but were making an effort because we love Rachel) walked up with her coffee mug and asked where the coffee was. I asked her if she had brought coffee. She answered that she was under the impression that I was providing food and cooking and all she needed was a coffee mug. She had not packed any thing for them to eat on, nor food to share. They had packed snacks and lunch stuff but was expecting me to do all the cooking and providing of food. Thank goodness my tendency is to always over pack. Once she had her coffee (cowboy coffee out of an old time percolator, it's the best) she took Rachel off for a walk while J and I made breakfast.

I was boiling mad.

Just as breakfast was served (in cups and bowls because we did not have enough plates, stupid me), and I had put the first bite in my mouth, about 60 people came walking down the hill in a line about two feet apart.

Fuck. A full-scale grid search doesn't look like anything else. They were very surprised to see us as they walked through our camp. Someone had found a head out by the highway and they were grid searching for the rest of the human remains. I pretty much lost my appetite at that point. The meaning of the saw horse and the caution tape became very apparent in hindsight, and J and I started to pack camp immediately. We were about half way done when the Wyoming Sheriff's department came down to talk to us. Luckily, the guy was feeling generous and didn't issue tickets or arrest us. He verbally took us down and then told us to clear the area as quickly as possible. Since it was obvious we were already doing so, he stood back to watch.

Rachel and Loolie grabbed their small tent, their two sleeping bags and their small cooler and made one trip to the car. Then they wandered off. I have no idea where they went, but they left us with 200 lbs of cast iron to clean, pack and carry up the hill. Plus, the tent, three sleeping bags, two full coolers, three lanterns, camp chairs, thermarests, various and sundry camping items, three 6 gallon containers of water, a cat and a three year old. We got camp cleaned up, the fire out (emptied the water figuring we would find more) and turned to look at the pile of stuff we needed to haul out, since we couldn't drive the truck back down the hill with both the FS and the Sheriff standing right there.

Just then, the grid searchers came back through camp heading back up the hill. Every single one of them grabbed an item and carried it back up for us. It was an amazing act of kindness that our own friends hadn't seen fit to do. I gathered T up on my back and J grabbed the cat and we headed back up to the truck. We headed out. It would be years before we went back to that area, although we did camp in other places in Vedauwoo.

We drove out and stopped at the entrance to discuss options with Rachel and Loolie. They had pulled out lunch items from their cooler and ate while we talked. We couldn't get to our cooler without pulling everything out of the truck. T was so hungry he was crying. We headed into town to get food and water for the containers. From there we headed to Red Feather Lakes in Colorado to camp one more night.

One of the things I should probably explain is that Rachel and J have known each other since before college. Rachel is T's Godmother and we enjoy spending time with her. We understand her foibles and we understand what a weekend visit with her entails. T loves her and she is great with him. That is worth the eccentricities we deal with and I know we will be feeding her. We don't however, like Loolie at all. Loolie is jealous that Rachel still spends time with us. She consistently picks a fight when Rachel is visiting, or right before Rachel gets to our house. She knows how to push Rachel's buttons. And she seriously has some issues when it comes to taking care of things.

So, we drive to the new campsite. Set up the tents and get bedding inside. Then head out to find fire wood, because it is now evening and we need to cook dinner. I found a dead fall tree that someone had taken down with a chainsaw and cut all of the branches off the trunk, then left the branches. I called Rachel and J to help me and we carried enough wood down to feed the fire for the night. When we got back down to the firepit we discovered Loolie trying to batter a piece of green wood with my axe, which she had taken out of the truck. My axe works okay on really dry wood, basically being a heady awl you can use to split the wood with, but it's definitely not sharp enough to cut through super green wood. Loolie got more and more frustrated with the lack of progress she was making and finally gave up. She took the long handle axe and set it against a tree, head up and blade pointing out. It was at T's face height.

I asked her what the hell she was doing, because that was dangerous for T.

She replied that that was the proper way to store an axe. I told her she needed to find the cover and put it away before T got hurt.

She grabbed the axe and shoved it in a crotch of a very small tree, once again leaving the blade exposed on the far side of the tree at T's head height, instead of finding the cover and putting the axe away. By this point I was completely beyond caring what she thought and grabbed the axe, asking where the hell the cover was. She said she didn't know and went off to fight with Rachel. I found the axe cover tossed in a bush where she had left it, put it on the axe and put the axe away in the truck, then locked the truck.

J and I made stew for dinner. Cleaned up the dishes. Put everything away. Had just sat down in our camping chairs, with the boy on my lap when Loolie, who had been lounging in a chair during dinner prep, asked where dessert was.

That was when I killed her and hid the body.

Just kidding.

That is when J and I took the boy and the cat and went to bed. As we crawled in the tent, J discovered the cat, who had been outside practically all day, had peed on the bottom of her sleeping bag. We figured out a way to keep her warm, got the boy snuggled in and the cat happy and turned off the light. I know J was lying there, just like me, fuming, angry and frustrated about the day, vowing to never, ever do this again, when T spoke up out of the dark.

"Mom?"

"What?"

"I love camping."

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Scale

I thought about writing a post about the awfulness that was last night, triggered by me stepping on a scale the night before (note to self DESTROY ALL THE SCALES) but have decided I don't really need to dwell on that hot mess. Suffice it to say, I ended the night in tears considering never riding again. Not because of Ashke, but because of my self-loathing. N, who had also had a fairly eventful ride (I'm sure our combined energy was setting off our horses), talked me off the ledge and listened and kicked my butt when I needed it. That was good. So, happy horse owner I am still.

So, instead, here are ten things:

1. Two years ago I was significantly out of shape with a back I thought would break at the slightest misstep. Today, I am stronger and more fit than I have been since my accident. I have also done a lot of research about lower back issues and have discovered that pretty much everything I thought was bogus. The worry can just slide away. The residual pain I have been experiencing is directly related to tight, unfit muscles. Combine that information with the information I picked up from the Mark Rashid seminar, and I have been doing stretches to help loosen my lower back. I also try, when I am riding, to consciously relax those muscles, allowing energy to flow.

2. I can't wait for my Alta Escuela.

3. There are bits of absolute brilliance in our ride last night. Ashke moved in a turn on his haunches, and a turn on his forehand, with the slightest touch. We sidepassed over the pole in both directions without any issue. He stepped over and paused, waiting to know which direction he was supposed to move before moving. And our canter to the right was good, but the canter to the left was unbelievable. For the first time, I was transported back to riding when I was a teen.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Still

Yep. Still Sore. Right in the area where the muscles move above his flanks. On both sides.

I opted to lunge in sidereins and work the trot-canter transitions. I figure that if he is unable to do them smoothly without me on his back, they he's really going to struggle with me riding him.

We did lunging for about 40 minutes. He did about a gazillion transitions. To the right he holds his head higher than to the left, but after a dozen or so transitions, he finally settled into a nice canter. When he transitioned down, it took him a couple of tries to understand that I wanted him to settle back into the smooth, quiet trot he was starting out from. By the end of moving to the right, he was no longer throwing himself forward into the canter. His head was still pretty high though.

To the left we started out with a horrid canter, with lots of head tossing and cross cantering. He was more worried about me than what I was asking him to do. I finally figured out that he was concerned about the carriage whip and dropped it. He was able to relax and cantered very nicely to the left. He had his tail up for the majority of the work. He did some nice long stretchy walks in between the trots and canters.

I decided to try and cue him with verbal cues instead of my heel, because he is blast snorting at me when I touch him with my heel. If I cue him verbally, that's one less thing I need to try and coordinate. And honestly, he's so sensitive that if I cue him verbally, I probably don't need to use my leg. We will see how that works tomorrow.

I gave him 2g of bute when we were done. Hopefully, the little bit of work today will help the muscles stretch and relax by tomorrow. I'm going to ride with N during her lesson.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sore

I think all of the incredibly wonderful lateral work we have been doing has made my horse sore. I think it is the lateral lessons and practice, rather than the saddle, because Cali is sore in EXACTLY the same spot. I put Sore No More on it and the BOT AP pad, and took him to the indoor. He stood calmly for me to get on, but had zero interest in moving into a frame, fighting me when I asked for a trot transition.

I opted not to fight and instead we went outside to walk around the property. That was tense. He quivered at the bunny in the field. He thought about turning himself inside out as we rode past a paddock with the bottom strand of electric fencing on the ground, which was zizzling as we walked past. There was a terrifying tarp whipping around in the 25 mph wind and he jumped sideways about five feet when Henry rolled down the window of his truck so I could tell him about the fencing. Finally, I was totally unreasonable at expecting him to step across the hose stretched across the lane, but he did it after much bouncing and snorting and stomping of his feet.

I rewarded him by stripping off his tack and loosing him with the NSH who looks a lot like Cali, and who tried to kick him with both hind feet. Luckily, he is very dodgy and she missed and by the end of their run they were friends. Toward the end of their time playing, they discovered the large pool of muddy water at the end of the arena. Ashke really thought about laying down and rolling. I was shouting curses and prayers at the same time, trying to get down there and stop him. I didn't spend an hour shampooing him on Friday for him to roll in the mud today. He didn't, but not for want of trying.

When I tried to put the saddle back on, he spooked and dumped it on the ground, then freaked himself out and tried to drag me through a mud puddle. Cassandra was there and helped me get the saddle back on. Lil' jerk. I'm thinking I need to teach him to drive so he stops freaking out about stuff following him around. Probably will need to start in the round pen unless I want to body surf the sand of the outdoor arena. I gave up and put him away.

Newest Browband 




It's hard to tell the colors but the snake down the middle is pink and teal. The little crosses are light amethyst and dark amethyst. It was made for the Jefferson Jr Rodeo Princess and matches her chaps. It looks great on her horse. Hopefully I will have a picture them all decked out on the browband page.

I am making them by hand. It takes about 18 - 20 hours per band and both the pattern and the colors are specific to the horse and rider. I am charging $150 per band. Let me know if you would like to order one.

Joy

"Look: Softness is Joy"
                                                                                           -- Mark Rashid

Yesterday was my first experience with a show of any kind while riding Ashke. TMR put on a "just-for-fun" Hairy Horse Show and Shot Clinic. (I opted to wait for shots from my vet, probably some time next week). Classes were $20 and some of the money went to the barn and some to the Pinto Club. They offered three classes: Showmanship, Patterns and Dressage Suitability. Just for the record, I would rather poke myself in the eye than show Showmanship. Not that I don't think we could do well, but because halter classes were my bane when I was showing in 4-H and I have no desire to do so again. The second class, patterns, I will show in next time. The patterns were fairly simple and I think Ashke could have done just fine in them. The third class, Dressage Suitability, was actually a Show Hack class on the rail. The gaits were W/T/C at a collected, regular and extended stride. Cassandra explained to N and I that those gaits are third and fourth level dressage moves, and we aren't anywhere close to being ready to attempt them. So, basically, the class was five of us walking, trotting and cantering around the arena at speed. I think N and I were hoping for a more dressagey class and less of a "all hell is breaking loose" class.

Ashke worked on his anxiety level when working in an arena with a bunch of horses between him and Cali (it's a darn good thing they are not stalled next to each other.) He was actually pretty good for the entire time we were in the arena. After he was a little warmed up, we did trotting down the long side of the arena, a turn on the forehand and trotting back. We changed it up with turns oon the haunches and a couple of really nice shoulder-in movements. Once the class started, I tried to work on some of the stuff we are doing, like getting him to go long and low at the walk and a stretchy chewy trot instead of what they were asking for. Both of those are making progress, as is any lateral movement I am seeking. Ashke and I opted out of the canter to the right in traffic. We did do the canter to the left until he slipped in the sand with his hind leg and then I pulled him out. After the class was done, I did ride him to the right at a canter for about three circuits of the arena.

He picked up his right lead and his canter started out pretty nice, but then he started to want to rush. Instead of slowing him down or grabbing at his mouth, I just said, "Let's just try for joy, son. This should be a joyous, fun canter. Just joy. I trust you." I let off a little with my hands and tried to relax. He blew out at my words and his head came down, and we cantered. It felt to me like the best canter we've had to the right. Ever.

I had spent time on Friday thinking about this issue of cantering. Whenever I am on him and I consider the canter, we both get very tense. I can feel the tension flow up my back like concrete and regardless of how I try to talk myself out of it, I feel anxiety and some amount of fear creeping in under the low banked clouds. I thought back to when I used to ride, even on crazy-ass Keili, and my favorite gait was a canter. It was the easiest gait to ride, even bareback. Queenie was awesome at the canter. I was never afraid then. Even with all of the tosses (not really that many after I stopped riding Seabisquit when I was a kid - it was like I had hot glue on my butt) it was always my favorite gait. Now it is something I dread. (Proof it only took forty years for me to learn cause and effect.) All other things aside (back strength, framing, saddle woes, ring crowding, wind, etc.) I need to refind my joy.

 See, Ashke doesn't know anything about my past or what has happened to me before. He knows of my weaknesses and where my body hurts, and like a good Companion, he is helping me work on those areas for healing. He knows I trust him and that trust flows between us at the W and T, but all he can sense at the canter is my fear and inability to relax. I'm not telling him that I trust him, I'm telling him the opposite of that. I needed a way to change our dynamic from fear (distrust) to joy (trust). Ashke responds so very well to verbal commands that I wanted to tell him out loud. His responding by lowering his head and blowing out told me he was willing to try. I tried to ride with joy, pushing the anxiety to the back of my mind, and let my body relax into the ride. I did find myself clenching a bit through my knees, but Ashke didn't mind. I asked him verbally to trot and he did, bringing himself back into a frame with no effort.

Yesterday was a step in the right direction. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

VCBH: What's in Your Blog Name



It started with Ashke's name . . . .

When I was first given my SE gelding at the Christmas party, Steve called him Abu after the monkey in Aladdin, and probably the only Egyptian sounding word they knew. I heard it as Ahboo, which is something I have been saying to J for two decades. Ahboo in our house means we are sad in a joking sort of way. For example, I love ice cream (which explains a lot about my breech size) and have loved ice cream since I was a little kid. J hates ice cream. Alright, she doesn't hate ice cream but she can take it or leave it. Sometimes I want to stop for ice cream and she says no. I will do a Ahboo face, complete with pouty lip and begging eyes. Or when I covet a new backpack or Osprey bag. (I love backpacks and bags with lots of compartments, which I do not call a purse.) And it works both ways, although I usually find more reasons to ahboo then J does. I do great pouty eyes. (And I can pin my ears at her like a horse, but that's a completely different story.) I don't think we were sold on the idea of his name being Abu, but it seemed like a good omen at the time.

And then we met him. And Steve. And Steve's family. We heard the story of how funny it was to see him shaking with cold during the middle of the winter. It became obvious that we needed to change his name. With his new life, he needed a new name.

So, for the three weeks between March 9th and April 1st, I played with names. Before we traveled to Texas the first time, I had done some research and discovered the breeding farm he had been raised on. I had also received some links to information about his heritage and then I spent hours researching his lineage and the farm. They breed some really nice horses, most for halter showing, but the geldings have an opportunity to do other things. Like dressage. And endurance. I had his sire's name: Thee Asil, and his mare's name: Bint Keishta. I wanted a name that would combine or hint at his ancestry but that would also have meaning to me.

One day, J was driving and I was tossing out names to her for approval or disapproval. (Mostly to make her laugh at me.) All of the names would begin with Thee, since his daddy was Thee Asil and his granddaddy was Thee Desperado, and I wanted to honor that heritage. In the midst of tossing out names to derision and scorn, I was struck by a thought. It struck me dumb (not difficult) while I thought through the word. The word was Ashke.

See, the word originated from a Mercedes Lackey set of books called The Last Herald Mage. The main character in it is a young man named Vanyel (this was in the running for Tristan's name) and he was the most powerful Mage during his lifetime. He was also a Herald. Being a Herald was not something you earned, but something you were Chosen for. According to the books:

Companions are highly intelligent magical creatures who look like (but are not) horses. They are easily recognized by their pure white coats, bright blue eyes, and the sound of their silver hooves, most commonly refered to as the sound of bells. Each Herald has such a Companion. Each Companion is white because of their connection to Node magic. They draw upon Nodes to enhance their abilities and those of their Chosen.

So, the Companions were white and magical. Check. They Chose their rider. Check. (He doesn't have blue eyes, but I love his deep, searing brown ones more any way.) One of the endearments that is used in the three book series is Ashke. It means beloved. Check. And it combines parts of both names of sire and mare. Check. Thee Ashke was born.

The blog started as my way of tracking our progress, the ups and downs of Ashke's rehabilitation from 500 lbs to being the fit and fine 1100 lb animal he is today. I also wanted to be able to go back and read about issues or thoughts as they came up. I had a couple of other blogs prior to this one, but nothing that ever had a readership. And I was okay with that. It was supposed to be about me, not what other people thought. But that changed as well. I began following blogs. Reading and interacting with other people. I started sharing my horse life stories and then other stories as well. I made friends. Got to know people and their horses. Grew my readership. Enjoyed the writing. Found a couple of long lost companions.

Never wanted to change the name though, this will always be, first and foremost, about my most beloved Chosen Companion Ashke.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

TTTT: Finishing the Story

When we last left, we were sitting in the middle of the road, at 11 pm at night, on a blind curve with a stalled truck, just having attempted our first cow enema with a half-ton Dodge Dakota. The cattle were standing on the side of the road, with wide eyes and snorty plumes of warm air blowing from their nostrils. Poor cows. One moment they are having a nice little layabout, on warmed asphault, chewing cud and dreaming cow dreams. The next moment they are being harassed by a screeching loud, brightly lit monster.

We were so lucky we didn't end up with a cow hood ornament.

Inside the truck we were hysterical with laughter. Stuff was being said like, "I didn't ask for the anal probe!" or "Did you see that cow's butthole? It was all I could see." "I can't believe we got stopped without hitting them." and "OMG, I couldn't believe it when that cow slipped trying to get up." "All I was thinking was go cow! go!"

Tears were running down my face and I had a stitch in my side before I stopped laughing. There was a little voice in the back of my head screaming "You stupid bitch, that's what the sign meant! Open range = cows on the road." But overall, the release of adrenaline ran to the funny, not the angry.

T tried the truck motor and it turned over. That was a relief because it was a big truck and we were miles away from help. She pulled out of the middle of the road and we just sat for a few moments. She decided I should drive, since she was still shaking and feeling exhausted. We switched places and I started up the truck.

Remember, we were on our way to a camping spot T had been to once. We weren't sure where it was, but T thought she remembered the access road. I drove much slower than we had been until we crossed the other cattle guard and left the Open Range behind. As we got close to State Bridge, T had me slow down and just past the bridge was a forest service access road to the right. I turned onto it at T's bidding and we began to bump our way down this dirt road. About a hundred feet in, the grass and brush to the right of the truck disappeared, to be replaced by air. I could see the moonlight shining off the water a long way down.

It was about that point when I realized there was about six inches of edge to the right of the dirt ruts, and the ground to the left of the truck went straight up. Not only that but the road was constructed in such a way that the truck tilted slightly downhill, which was in the direction of the river. The Colorado River, to be exact. (I have knots in my shoulders and tension in my back remembering the drive.) We had gone about a hundred feet in when T said, "you are going to kill me tomorrow when you see where you are driving." I thought but didn't say that we might both die that night and then I wouldn't have to kill her.

We came to the washed out part of the access road. There was a merry little stream trickling it's way down the center and the roadway (if you can even call it that) curved into the hill. There wasn't more than four inches of extra space between the right side rut and an endless slide downward into the water. I crept across, being very specific about where the tire tracks were. As we were crossing the wash, T sucked in her breath. I said, "What?" very sharply. The last thing one wants to hear when driving something like that is a sharply inhaled breath. T said, "I'll tell you when we are down." Not really something I wanted to hear, but I certainly didn't need any more stress at that point.

Once we were across the wash, the road dipped downward toward the river. Once we hit level ground, and maneuvered our way to the campsite, I started to shake. We got camp set up and hit the sleeping bags.

When I woke up I couldn't believe the views. We were just off the river and very isolated. Fishing was great, but T was right, I wanted to kill her when I saw the road we drove in on. It was a very narrow track 150 feet above the water, sandwiched between a rock wall above and a rock wall below. Very little room for error. (On later trips to that spot, I had people get out of the vehicle and walk rather than ride inside on that road. Wimps.) At the spot where the curved through the washout, at the bottom of the cleft was a small stand of trees and a wrecked truck that had obviously gone off road and slid down the wash out and was left to rust in the trees, a few feet above the water.

I took a deep breath and went fishing. It took me a while to make my way down the bank of the river, treacherous with underbrush and washed up drift wood. Finally, I made my way to a sand bar that edged out into the river and began casting. An hour and a half later I caught my first trout since I was 12. It was decent sized and would make a great breakfast. I wanted to get back to camp and get it sizzling over the fire, but I really didn't want to struggle with the underbrush, so I strung the fish on a line and headed up the hill to the access road. It was a struggle, but once I got to the road, it was much easier.

I had taken maybe four steps when out of the underbrush moved a snake. It was about 12" long, about the diameter of my little finger and dusty brown. I thought, 'oh, look, a garter snake.' I watched it slither across the road and start up the very steep side of the mountain. My brain thought 'Oooooo, maybe I can catch it and take it back to camp and scare T with it.' Then my back brain thought, 'What if it's slimy and gross?' My brain thought, 'Oh, I know, I'll touch it first and see before trying to pick it up.'

I started tracking it's progress up the hillside, listening for it's movements, and finally caught sight of it just as it broke into a small patch of open hillside. I reached out and laid my finger on it's back just as it slid it's head under a flat piece of shale. That little fucker whipped out from under the rock faster than my eye could follow. My hand jerked away and I stared in terror as it wound itself into a coil, head poised to strike and it's soundless little tail trying to rattle behind it. I started to shake.

Rattlesnake.

Another of my lives gone. (I think I am worse than a cat and was granted twelve.) A snake that small could have killed me, or at least made me very sick. Also, very thankful for whatever guardian angel stopped me from trying to pick it up.

The fish tasted yummy, though.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Lateral





We had a lesson tonight. I hadn't really ridden since Saturday (remember we walked a lot on Sunday and I didn't ride on Monday). For some reason I am exhausted all of the time.


He sure tries his heart out for me. We started the lesson with a wonderful shoulder in movement that dropped Cassandra's jaw. She asked me where I learned it and I told her from her. I pay attention to everything she tells her other students when I am in the arena when she is giving other lessons. Some of it must be sinking in.

So, without further ado . . . .


Some shoulder in



Long and low


Sidepass


And back



Trying to be straight again.

We didn't canter much, because I slipped on the ice yesterday and strained my lower back. I have a huge knot of muscle over the SI joint on my right lower back. (I really need to order some Rocky Mountain Rescue Rub.) Cassandra said we both were bracing when trying to canter. Going to the right was tough and I know I get tense, which causes Ashke to brace. Tonight he almost tried to run away with me for the first time in weeks, rushing into the canter. It got a little bit better to the left, but I think we were both really tired and just not feeling it.



I really just need to do it over and over and over again until neither of us is worried about it. Part of the issue is the Wintec is not nearly as easy to ride in as the Trekker was and I feel much less stable. And I am still not entirely used to it, so when we cantered tonight, I was slipping to the outside of the saddle and catching myself on his outside rein. He was bracing against that and we just weren't able to relax. Cassandra got on and tried. They had a nice little canter but it was obvious Ashke was tired because of the lateral work we did.


I told Cassandra that I wasn't going to show away from TMR until I had my saddle. I think once I am riding in it and confident that I am not going to slip or throw him off balance (arms and elbows a flying) then I will start thinking about showing him away from the barn. (There is a home show this weekend I am planning on doing which should be fun.) My biggest issue and one that I just can't seem to correct is that I hold my right shoulder up higher than my left. Something crazy.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Contrast

"Horses have two central emotions: fear and curiosity."
                                                                                                         -- Mark Rashid


A conversation J and have had on a regular basis over the last eighteen years, is the difference in personalities between her and myself. She is a pessimist of the highest order, being that people are inherently self-absorbed, unmotivated and not very bright. This is especially true if she is driving. I, on the other hand, am an optimist. I believe people are basically good, fair, have a story to tell, want to be the best they can be. Except when I am driving, then I channel J. Although, incidents like Sunday have a tendency to shadow my perception of humanity. It is this optimism that allows me to strike up conversations with total strangers on the bus or subway, and it is what drives my motivation to continue this blog.

So, does nature or nurture create optimists and pessimists? It may be an eternal question, but important none-the-less. And here is why. . . .

Horse have two central emotions: fear and curiosity. How these two emotions are dealt with by the horse is what creates their personality. Keili, the National Show Horse I owned in 1992, was ruled by fear. Ordinary activities could cause her to become terrified and when she did so, her intellect was ruled by blind, unreasoning panic. No amount of work ever seemed to make it better. Now, back then, I wasn't connected to a community of horse people. I was out there on an island by myself, just wanting to ride a horse that never, ever lost her fear. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to ride an animal that is just on this side of terror? It's really hard.

Why am I thinking about this now? Because of Ashke and Amaar. Both are Straight Egyptian Arabians. Ashke was seven when I got him and Amaar is seven now. Ashke wasn't started under saddle and was starved when I rescued him; Amaar had been started under saddle, not neglected, although a little on the lean side. Both are grey. But like J and I are opposite sides of the optimist/pessimist scale, Ashke and Amaar are the opposite sides of the emotional scale.

Ashke is ruled by curiosity. Even from the very first moment, you could tell this horse was going to be something special. When we transported him from Amarillo to Denver, we stopped in Limon (half way), found an empty lot off the road and pulled off for lunch. The field we stopped in was covered in grass. I expected Ashke to step off the trailer and begin eating. I mean, if I looked as hungry as he did, I would want to eat. Instead, he grazed sparsely, but mostly he wanted to look around. We wandered around the lot, up by the buildings, past the cars and around the trailer. He wanted to investigate all the things. Less than 50 feet away, cars, trucks and big rigs whizzed past on the road. He watched them, but never once showed any signs of spooking. It is probably his greatest gift.

Now, secure in his relationship with me, his curiosity just bubbles over. You can see it in how he follows Cassandra around when we are in the arena, neck outstretched and nose in the hair at the back of her neck. I could see it last night walking around the property, following the deer with pricked ears and a look in his eyes like "Ooooo, what's that?" Or his reaction to the mini Spirit, that just moved into the barn. Other horses are freaking out and Ashke just wants to be friends. He nickers at the regular boarders, nickers at the grooms that lead him to turn-out, steals tools and other items from Henry, whenever Henry is working in his stall, tries to take the handle of the hayfork in his mouth and help when they are cleaning his stall. He is more than just a pocket pony, he is a curious, active partner in crime. He likes and trusts people. He was born to be a trail horse, but does equally well in the arena, because he wants to please.

I think Ashke was born with this as his personality, but I also think it was shaped in his youth by the farm he was raised on. He was bred at Arabians Ltd. in Waco, TX and they have an incredible foal program. From the moment the foals are born, they are handled with the greatest gentleness, treated like the offspring of royalty they are, and it creates a bond that shapes both the horse and their response to stimuli throughout their lifetime. I truly believe this is why I have been able to train him to go under saddle with very little fuss. Not that I'm that great of a rider or trainer, but that I have that great of a horse.

So, if a horse can come with the personality and disposition to become a trusted and reliable partner, both in the ring and on the trail, might a horse come with a personality that makes it difficult to attain safety and calmness in the ring? The woman I know who purchased Amaar wants a trail horse. That is the kind of riding she wants to do and that is the kind of horse I know she was looking for. However, Amaar is ruled by fear. Cassandra thought they had a breakthrough this week where he finally began concentrating on the rider instead of his surroundings. Even after three months in training he is still spooky in the indoor arena, although it did seem like the spookiness diminished as they worked with him. Both the woman I know and Cassandra thought they were making great strides, finally, but then they had a set back with a dustpan on Saturday.

My friend has owned him for a year. She has had him in training for three months. They are making progress, but it is slow and he is no where near ready to be ridden on the trails. He still reacts to every thing with fear. His fear has taken the avenue of rearing. On Saturday, when the dustpan tried to eat him, he went straight up on his hind legs. I think it is this reaction that caused my friend to send him into training.

I watched a trainer at my last barn working with a little mare who had spooked at a new banner on the fence of the outdoor arena. The mare was a nifty little Arabian mare who had shown some hesitation at the banner when she was first ridden into the arena. The woman who owned her, instead of urging the mare to approach the banner, or even ignoring the mare's slight spook and getting on with her ride, immediately got off and waited for the trainer. The trainer came out, gone on the mare and forced her past the banner over and over again. Every time the mare paid the slightest attention to the banner the trainer whalluped on her with his stick. He justified this approach by saying, "if she spooks at the banner she could hurt me, so when she does so I am hurting her." Yeah, he was one of the reasons I wanted to leave that barn. Ashke hated him and rightly so. He could use this approach without risking a lot of injury, because the mare was placid by nature and more curious than fearful.

I don't believe this approach could work with Amaar. I think it would make him worse. Cowboy breaking is not a solution. Cassandra has been very patient. She's spent a lot of time working him from the ground. Setting the stage for him to be able to work through his fear and attain a place of peace and calm, to reach a place where he could find trust in the humans working him and let go of his fear for a little while.

So, my final thought is, if a horse reacts primarily from a place of fear, is it possible to encourage the curiosity and calmness necessary for a good trail horse? Can he find within himself the ability to trust and be trusted? Will he become the horse my friend would like him to be? At what point should she either give up her desire to ride on the trails, or give up on the horse? Is there a point when the rider has to make the decision that the horse is not a good fit for what she wants?

My only experience with a horse of this type was with Keili. My experience says Amaar will not change enough to be a safe ride, but my experience is also based on a horse that did not have access to the training and ability of a trainer of Cassandra's caliber, nor did I have the friendship and coaching of a rider like N. Nor, for that matter, did I have the insight and blogging experiences of this horse community I discovered on the interwebs. All of which have contributed to changing my perception and challenged my ability to grow and progress as a rider. And given me clues or ideas when I become stuck, and support and encouragement when I want to quit.

I have great faith in Cassandra. We shall see if she can work miracles, because I think that might be what it will take.


Monday, March 10, 2014

Hanging

"Ego gets in the way of harmony, sometimes." 
 -- Mark Rashid

I wanted to recap the ride on Sunday, because there were some things that happened that I was very happy about. Obviously, we had a very stressful ride and came home exhausted, but even in the midst of the worse part of that ride, I had some nuggets that I held close in my heart.

First, I think there is a very valuable tool in riding in an arena. I know there are some people who would rather cut off a leg then willingly ride in an arena, but I have experienced the difference it makes in your horse if you do so. Arena riding allowed Ashke and I to develop a level of communication that he respects and trusts and listens to. Every time we had a big spook, I tightened my fingers and my seat and he immediately came back down. I didn't have to grab hold of his mouth or wrestle for control. It was amazing. Time and consistent riding with intent really have made a world of difference.

Second, we rode our entire ride (that I was on him) with contact and except for a couple of moments right at the beginning, he was willing to yield his head. I got him to stretch down into contact. We did a little bit of piaffe on the trail with Cali walking beside us and he was so animated, but completely contained. He was foamy and relaxed and maintaining the contact really helped in those moments when he needed a little support. It has been the work we have been doing with Cassandra that has made that possible. Even though we were just walking, he did most of the ride moving off his hind end. The two times he bolted, he only took a couple of steps before he stopped.

Three, the Wintec is comfortable enough to trail ride in. There was no back soreness for Ashke and I was very comfortable. I don't feel as secure as I did in the Trekker, but I am expecting the Alta Escuela to fix that. Overall, the Wintec is a fairly nice little saddle, considering it is fairly mundane and cheap. The saddlebags were big enough to hold the torn up gloves and fit on this saddle really well.

Finally, I tried to maintain an awareness of my lower back while I was in the saddle. I can feel the muscles tighten up and block the energy. As soon as I thought about it, the muscles would relax and i could feel the movement again. It's going to take effort and consistency to maintain the relaxed muscles and not tighten against the perceived pain.

Tonight, I went to the barn to ride and ended up just hanging with my boy. I was too tired to get on and this time I recognized it before it blew up into a fight. I let him graze on the new grass coming up, paraded him around the neighborhood and let the little kids ooooo and aaaaaaa over him. We even encountered two young bucks and a pretty doe by the creek that runs through the barn. It was fun.



Sun Day

aka Hell-Girl . . . .

aka What is Wrong with People?

aka Worse Trail Ride EVAH!!!

aka One Damn Thing After Another . . .

It was an absolutely breath-taking day yesterday. High of 70. Some wind. Melting snow.

It's been since November that N and I have gotten out on the trails together. We made plans. The weather cooperated. We met at the barn and got the horses tacked up, with boots on. N booted all four and I just did the front two. We were both hoping it would be a sunfilled, wonderful ride and were looking forward to it.

For background, Cali is in full time training with Cassandra, who is riding her T,W,TH and then N is taking a lesson with Cassandra on F,S. We trail ride on Sunday and Cali gets Monday off. By the lesson on Saturday, Cali was acting out at the increased work load and protesting being ridden. The plan today was to get them both on trail, doing the 7.5 mile loop of the Fairmount at a walk. No trot. No canter. Just an easy relaxed enjoyable day out in the sun. I put my Stowaway pommel pack on the Wintec with water and Gatorade (thanks Saiph for highlighting your pommel pack, because that's why I bought this one. Although I got the one with the two water bottle holders.) It hooked on my saddle much easier than trying to fit it to the Trekker and Ashke didn't seem to mind at all. I loaded one of the pockets with cookies and one with carrots. Today was supposed to be K and N's Day of Fun.

We climbed on at our usual place and headed across the parking lot. We were almost to the driveway when we realized there were two horses in the outdoor arena, running around like wild things. There was a huge pool of water at one end of the arena they were tearing through. Cali was a little concerned by them, so we waited it out until the horses had settled. Then we headed up the driveway, having to breech the deep pool of muddy water that is the driveway. Both horses did really well going through it, although they were both a little wound up by the change in routine. About the time we hit the end of the outdoor arena three things happened at the same time. The horses in the arena began to tear around, a car came rushing down the drive way faster than it should have been, and Cali spotted the big jump house outside a house at the corner. She began to buck. N got her controlled and slid off. I got off too, because whatever N is doing, I follow, and vise versa, so our horses are under the same pressure at the same time.

Cali continued to buck and jump. I asked N if we needed to go back and lunge, but she wanted to go on. So on we went.

At the edge of the sidewalk where we leave TMR property and cross the road there was a dead skunk and a guy fixing his bicycle. He had his bike flipped upside down and was working on the chain or the derailer, or something. Both horses were very spooky.

We hand walked through the neighborhood. The three block walk was enough to settle both horses and N got on about a block from the trailhead. I got on at the trailhead, because there was a huge rock. As we were walking up to the rock for me to use as a mounting block we both noticed an eight year old boy sitting on the edge of the sidewalk with his scooter. He was watching us with curiosity. Just after I mounted and we turned up the trail, the boy jumped up, got on his scooter and sped his way toward our horses hind ends. I yelled at him and told him to stop, while N was struggling to get Cali turned around so she could see what was happening behind us. The boy's father took that moment to throw a snowball at the boy. It missed and splatted on the pavement behind Cali. We wrestled the horses under control, moving to the side and letting the family pass us. The Fairmount Loop is a multiuse trail and horses are supposed to have the right of way, but it was just easier to let them go past us.

We started down the trail and crossed the bridge, which was pretty spooky, then as we were walking over sidewalk that was still covered in melting snow and Ice, we were startled by a group of people walking through the trees and brush just off the trail to the right. There was also a man with a bike coming toward us at the same time.

We should have taken it as a sign.

After we turned the corner, we moved into the grass and cut across the field. The ground was soggy with standing water in some places. The soil in Colorado is mostly clay, which makes for very slick footing, and Ashke slipped a couple of times on his back feet. We knew we would need to be careful where we directed them, going forward. N and I talked about the number of people we had already seen on the trail and opted to turn up the canal to start. It would be less populated than the sidewalk, had decent footing even in the wet, and would give both horses a chance to settle. We have never ridden the Fairmount Loop backwards, so it would also be fresh for the horses. It was a great decision and we were able to ride for about two miles before the footing got slick again. We had to go down a fairly steep hill which had standing water in the ruts, so opted to get off the natural footing and back on the sidewalk.

Cali, who had been moving fairly well, suddenly got reluctant to go forward. N and I were trying to diagnose why she was being sluggish and decided maybe she didn't like the mud in her gloves. We were going to stay on the sidewalk for a while, so were hoping the mud would flake off and she would be less reluctant. She was walking sound, just not real willing. We talked about turning around, but going back on the same trail we went out on has proved problematic in the past and we were about half way around the loop. We continued forward. When we got to the next bridge, I swung down and walked Ashke across because there was caution tape flying in the wind. I mounted up and we headed toward the switchback trail.

 Before the flooding last year, there was a trail that cut across the field and connected to the sidewalk just as it begins to climb to the headland. It was challenging, in that it cut across two ditches, which Ashke insisted on jumping. After the flooding, they closed that trail, due to the undercut banks, the large boulders that had washed down, and the unsettled footing. Which means the ONLY trail we could ride on was the sidewalk. I was just as happy to continue riding on the sidewalk, which we did, meandering toward the second bridge. Just as we were walking up to cross the bridge, which was being crossed by two couples on foot and several bike riders, a woman on a mountain bike doing close to 40 miles per hour wove her way through the groups at speed and shot toward us. I knew Cali was jigging behind us and I did what I do when bikers are approaching too fast, I threw my hand up and yelled at the woman to slow down. She almost hit Cali on her way by and then stopped just behind us. Cali spun around to face her. N was absolutely furious. I was pretty pissed myself.

The woman on the bike stopped just behind us, flying off her bike and screaming, "What the fuck is your problem?"

I responded, as I always do, with "You need to slow down around the horses. Someone could get hurt."

Now, most times, people are pretty accepting that the 1100 pound animal that's dancing around in alarm might need some special consideration when being approached by riders on bikes. Additionally, in Colorado, bikes are required to yield to all other trail users.  The Fairmount Trail is a multi-use trail, meaning it has walkers, bikers and horseback riders. There are signs posted all over the trail saying that bikers are supposed to yield to everyone else. It also has a yield sign showing bikes yielding to riders and walkers. Horses always have the right-of-way. Always.

The other woman replied, "This is a bike trail, you shouldn't be on it, and if you don't want to deal with the bikes you shouldn't be here." There were more expletives in that sentence that I edited for content.

I said, "Horses have the right-of-way." N was saying the same thing, absolutely infuriated with her attitude.

The other woman exploded, "There's a horse trail marked across the meadow, you should be riding there. This is a bike trail and bikes always have the right-of-way." (Edited more copulation expletives.)

N responded by screaming, (there was no talking), "The trail is closed due to the flooding. We can't ride that way." (Also edited for expletives.)

The other woman responded that we should have gotten off the horses and walked, because this was a bike trail, which was just a flat out stupid thing to say. She insisted that it is only a bike trail and bikes always have the right of way.

N was starting to argue with her when the bike rider dropped her bike and threatened N. She was slapping her chest and throwing her arms out wide, daring N to get off her horse and come fight her. She threatened to kick N's ass. There were lots of cuss words. It was very high school.

N was not going to get off. I think, if anything, she would have ridden over the woman with her horse. Or at least tried. But she wasn't getting off. There were more profane insults thrown at each other, then the woman picked up her bike and headed out. We went to cross the bridge and Ashke refused. He was upset by the conflict and acting spooky, so I got off and hand walked him across. Cali followed. There were a pair of bike riders on the far side who asked if we were okay. (I was shaking from the adrenaline). They explained they were horse riders too and acknowledged that we were in the right. I led Ashke over to a culvert and used it to get on his back. We had taken two steps when Cali channeled her inner rodeo horse.

She tried to bolt and buck at the same time, putting some serious effort into the protest, and one of the hind foot gloves tore free from the gaiter, whizzed loudly as it sailed past my head and landed in the brush behind us. I have no idea why N wasn't tossed. She wasn't. She says it was the saddle, which allows her to ride out anything Cali tries. She brought Cali back under control and we both got off. (Ashke tried to bolt, but listened when I asked him to stop.) We found the boot that had been kicked off, unbooted her other back hoof, then decided to hand walk them back. Cali was beside herself and overwrought by everything that had happened. It was safer to be on the ground. We weren't going to try going any further. So, we turned around.

We crossed the first bridge headed back down the trail, talking about the incident with the woman. I told N that if something like that happened again, I was pulling out my phone and taking pictures. I knew she was in the wrong, by riding too fast and not yielding (not just to us, but to the other trail users), but that when she threatened to kick N's ass and offered to fight, it was assault. I wanted to register a complaint against her with Jefferson County and the City of Golden and Arvada. Cali had just begun to calm down and we were approaching the second bridge. There was a family at a picnic table with a dog on the near side.  I asked them if the dog was likely to bark. They said no and so we headed for the bridge.

Just then, the woman from the earlier altercation came back. I think she turned around deliberately to come back and find us. The path we were on can be ridden in a circle, so they didn't have to turn around. When she biked past me she made a nasty comment, then rode directly at N and stated something about bikes having the right of way and we needed to watch out for her. She swerved her bike toward Cali, trying to prove a point, and N snapped.

N whipped her dressage whip toward the woman's helmeted head. It whistled as it went and cracked pretty good when it hit. It hit the helmet and not her shoulders, which I thought showed great restraint on N's part.

The bike woman freaked out. She dropped her bike in the middle of the path, and went after N. First she tried  to grab Cali. She almost got the reins out of N's hand and I was thinking, "What the hell is she going to do if she ends up with the horse?"

Then she tried to grab at N, who began to hit the woman in the head and shoulders with her dressage whip trying to keep her away, while trying to control Cali, who was now jumping around and freaking out. (Ashke, however, was standing there watching with his ears pricked. You could hear the thought in his head, "Oooo, look, chick fight.) After N kept the woman from grabbing Cali, there was a short tussle over the bike, which N also won. So, now N was standing over the bike, with her horse and the dressage whip.

 
The bike woman attacked again, grabbed at the whip and got it out of N's hand. Then she started trying to hit N with it, but N ducked and wove, spinning her and Cali around the woman's bike, and taking most of the hits on the saddle. She kept trying to turn Cali into the woman, using Cali's butt to force the woman away and protect them both. In a moment of self-preservation, the woman did not hit the horse, which is good, because Cali would have kicked her. As it was, Cali was bucking and spinning but in a mostly vertical direction. She didn't step on the bike or hurt anyone, nor was she hurt. It was obvious the woman was trying to pick a fight with N, but wasn't trying to hurt the horse. I finally got my phone out of my buttpack, stripped off my glove and got the camera working. I missed most of the real fight. By the time I got snapping, most of the attempts at bodily harm had calmed to swearing and chest bumping. I mean, really. This woman was completely out of control.

The other woman went after N again, ending up on the far side of Cali, where she tried to throw the dressage whip into the brush, which was kind of funny, since it landed right at the edge of the concrete in a tangle of brush. It landed right in front of her and I was able to pick it up. By this time, I think the woman was beginning to regret starting the fight. She no longer had her weapon and N was not backing down. Her water bottle was lying on the sidewalk, near to where N and Cali were and she asked if she could get it. N said something along the lines of yeah, go ahead, it's not like I'm going to kick you in the teeth. The other woman did the chest bump thing again.

The guy who had been riding with her said to me, "You pull off your girl and I'll get mine to go on." I just shook my head. I wasn't going to intervene, unless N needed me to take Cali. It was pretty obvious it was winding down. The girl grabbed her water bottle, got her bike and amidst a chorus of f-bomb insults, we parted ways. Thank the gods, she didn't come back after that.

We continued to hand-walk towards the barn. I was exhausted and so was N. When we got past the hill that was slick with clay, we moved off the sidewalk and onto the dirt. There we remounted and managed to ride about a mile or so in calmness and peace. At that point, we just wanted to be back at the barn. We reached the canal and the horses were somewhat relaxed. I pointed out it was not the kind of day where we should be asking what else could go wrong, not wanting to tempt fate or present a challenge to the Gods.

Not two minutes later there was a loud whirring noise, with a lot of zzzzz sound in it and a pop. The horses both tried to bolt, then whirled and stood. N thought it was a bug or insect of some kind (it did sound like that) but as we continued, I realized there was a group of kids and their dad setting off rockets in the soccer field next to us. We moved off the canal and onto the concrete sidewalk, then met a woman with a small dog that tried to eat us. That was the final straw. We both dismounted for good. As we approached the final bridge, we were interrupted by a woman jogger who literally jogged up behind us and tapped N on the shoulder to ask us to let her by. We had no idea she was there.

It's a damn good thing neither of our horses kick. Although, I am tempted to teach Ashke. Maybe people would be less stupid if they were being kicked at.

N has always said one of these days she was going to hit a rider with her dressage whip.

We made it back to the barn without any further incidents. However, I don't think either of us will ever ride that trail again. There were way to many bikes and the riders don't understand they need to slow down when they go past. We can ride the mountain or we can trailer out to other spots. I'm tired of dealing with the people who think they should be entitled to ride as fast as they want and we need to get out of their way. There are a lot of comment threads on the biking boards about the Fairmount and how the bike riders hate the horses. It's just not worth it.

I do believe N is going to register a complaint with the City of Golden.