Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Not Enough Adjectives

Last night was the fourth day in a row I got to ride. That hasn't happened since T started school last fall. It has been a great four days and I am so happy I got to spend so much time with my boy. J and T were wonderfully giving to allow me so much time with Ashke. And Ashke loved it too.

I got to the barn and spent the first fifteen minutes watching Beaux and Troy bond and play in the jumping arena. Beaux is a beautiful Morgan-Friesan cross with gorgeous movement but the unruly attitude of a horse gelded late and poorly (I suspect he was proud-cut) who has never had the luxury of just being a horse. He and Troy raced around and bucked and kicked and generally carried on for fifteen minutes or so. He is such a beautiful mover, however he acts like a stud with no ground manners and the woman who bought him didn't want to deal, so she turned him back over to the original owner and bought herself a different horse. N says she would take him in a minute, if she could. I think he's way more horse than I would want and unless I was interested in having a trainer and doing something like Saddleseat with him, he would be a waste of my time and money.

Besides, I love Ashke.

We started in the arena, doing walk and trot. I can now get Ashke to bring his head down and feel collected under me (something we were working on during our trail rides) for half the circuit of the indoor and then he comes unraveled underneath me for several strides. N just thinks he still needs to work up the muscle and strength to do it full time. He was barefoot and did great for the entire night. (I will still boot when we go out. The hoof toughener seems to be helping a lot.) We did one circuit of the indoor at a canter and then I went to look for N who was there late.

We decided to go the dressage arena and ride some. Cali was being headstrong and difficult. It took a lot of N's patience and back/shoulder/arm muscles to deal with her. After about forty five minutes, Cali finally settled and did what N asked her to do. I keep telling N that Cali will outgrow this stage - in ten or so years. N is not amused.

Ashke and I did some trot work in the dressage arena, then I started moving him away from leg pressure. We did some leg yields across the arena and he moves right to left really well. The left to right, just like always, is more difficult. Overall, he was very responsive. I also worked on turning on the forehand and turning on the hind. We seem to mostly have our cues worked out so he knows what I am asking. Once he knows, he is very willing to do whatever I ask.

After that, I vacated the arena and let N and Cali work. I worked with Ashke sidestepping up to and object and then standing still while I shook, rattled, grabbed, leaned on, and otherwise messed with the object (I was trying to lift the coiled lunge rope off of the side of a wooden stand). Once he finally relaxed and stood still, I lifted the rope and we began working through the different ways in which the rope might find itself around a horse. I rubbed his neck and face, letting him sniff and lip at the coils, then brushed it down the sides and over his butt. I bounced the rope on all of those places and he got to the point where he was falling asleep. Good boy.

Next, I let the rope hang down behind us and we practiced dragging it all over the property. We turned in both directions, sometimes walking back over the rope, letting it tangle and slide over and through his legs, until he no longer paid any attention to it. Then I switched sides and worked the rope on the other side. Swear to whatever, after fifteen minutes he could have cared less about the rope. I coiled it up, hung it on the fence and moved on.

The barn has several trail ride obstacles set up. There is a bridge (no problem) and three different kinds of gates, a mail box and some tires. We worked on sidestepping up to the gate and standing still while I rattled and shook it. He does really great until we are on the other side and he doesn't get what I want him to do after that. I think he figures we're through, who needs to close it. I am going to work with the gate from the opposite side next time, until he understands I want him to sidle up to it sideways and stand, regardless of what the gate is doing. We also went over a fairly decent sized log, which he crossed with no issues.

I want to take a tarp out and stake it out on the ground so we can work with walking over it. There are enough tires to make up an obstacle, even if we have to get Rob to help us bury them half way in the ground so the horses can safely walk through them. We are going to need to find something we can drag at the end of a rope for another obstacle, plus I need to find barrels and poles for a couple of other obstacles. We can create an entire trail class out there, which will be so much fun. Ashke loves to learn that kind of stuff.

He was so good I don't have enough adjectives to describe it.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Back on Track

Many of you may know of this brand. It seems to be widely regarded in the horse community. I discovered it when N purchased half the store for her horse Cali. It seems to be an awesome product with a lot of positive benefits.

So, when my back really started to bother me, and let's face it, started to impede my ability to ride better, farther and faster, I started to look for some type of support. N suggested I look at the BOT website, because they make products for people and horses and dogs. I went on the website and found this:

There were a lot of reviews about this product and one of the things that was said over and over again was that people who weren't able to ride because of back pain were able to ride after they got this brace. I decided to take a chance and see if it helped.

I wear it mostly when I am going to be on my feet or when I ride. It does hold me a bit stiff in the saddle, but it has almost completely eleviated my back pain while riding. It is difficult to wear when I have to sit in a chair all day, but other than that I have been very satisfied with the product.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day Ride (Day Three)

Finally, finally, finally. . . . N and I were able to do a trail ride. It was a beautiful day, with just enough wind to keep it cool and cloud cover to keep us from burning up. I met N at 11 and after we got them all tacked up, we headed out. N was a little worried that Cali was having foot issues and we realized that she hadn't been turned out at all in several weeks (N said something about her not going to turn out when the fungus outbreak happened and that ban hadn't been lifted. I realized today when Ashke was out standing in his field alone.) Cali was kind of sluggish and didn't move very fast on the walk out. We tried a couple of trots and still N was concerned.

Ashke was incredible today. He had a couple of snorty moments - he really does not like the Goodle (Golden-poodle mix) we have seen the past three times we rode the canal. We went that way again today and he got all spooky and snorty with the dog. This time the owner and his wife were out working on their tiny garden and not only apologized for the behavior of the dog, but called him inside. Perhaps he learned something yesterday. We can hope. Ashke also remembered the newspaper on the trash can, looked at it kind of funny, then walked past it without issue.

It is incredibly green and the grass is tall and very lush. We were a little hesitant about snakes, but didn't see anything except the Goodle. N and I talked the entire ride. It was really nice to catch up. It's been several weeks since we were able to ride together due to our schedules and her moving into her new house.

After about 2.6 miles, N said that she was afraid Cali had a bruise or something and wanted to head back. I, understanding the frustrations of foot issues, turned around without an issues, and low and behold, Cali found a lot more energy (one of the reasons I like to ride a loop, because then there is less likelihood of them knowing where they are and heading for home faster than they left.) We did some nice trotting and Ashke had a couple of decent canters. The second canter spurred Cali into a canter and there was almost a race, but calmer heads prevailed.

When we got back to TMR, we went to pick up N's halter and lunge rope she had left on a fixture. I told her I wanted to try and pick it up without getting off and after a good ten minutes of trying I had a pretty freaked out horse and a rope strewn across the ground. We both dismounted and I started dragging the rope behind Ashke. This is an issue for him and something I wanted to work on. We moved in circles in both directions with the rope on both sides and by the time we had worked our way around to the parking lot, he had calmed down a lot and was figuring out that the rope wasn't going to hurt him. A couple more sessions in the round pen letting him drag ropes behind him attached to his circingle should remedy his fear.

I once again did all four boots. He is much better about having them on his feet and understanding how they feel when he trots and canters. He is still popping up in the front when we are moving through transitions, something I am going to work on tomorrow night.  I am going to ride for the first time without boots in the arena tomorrow night (I have already prepped dinner for the crockpot for T and J) and am going to enjoy the luxury of riding four days in a row. Woot!

Weekend Ride Two

There had been a planned trail ride at the barn on Sunday at 4 pm, but Cinnamon called at about 1 and said it was too hot for her to ride in the sunshine. Liz and Sally still wanted to ride, but didn't want to wait until 4 and wondered if I wanted to go at two. I threw on clothes and headed for the barn, leaving J to nap in the warmth and T playing video games.

Ashke still sounded sound when I led him from his stall. That steady, without hesitation walk is the best indicator, I believe, of how comfortable his feet are. Coming back sound after a longer ride on Saturday made me very happy. I got him groomed and tacked up. I had brought my Osprey hydropak and emptied it of everything but water, emergency medical kit (including snakebite kit), camera (which I didn't even use) and phone. I put all four boots on Ashke, because his back right hoof had a couple of chips out of the hoofwall from the ride on Saturday. They aren't big or anything, but I didn't want to aggravate it any further.

Liz and Sally have ridden together a lot. Liz was on Reagan (TWH) who can move pretty briskly at both the walk and the rack. Sally rides Ibn, which makes us a matched pair. Ibn was a bit of a handful to start, mostly because they both let them graze a lot on the trail. Ashke got right into the habit and kept trying to thrust his nose into the knee high clover. We did a lot of trotting and some short, nice canters. We went south on the canal but not as far as N and I or J, T and I have ridden. Sally was ready to turn back since Ibn is rehabbing a strained tendon, and we didn't want to push. He did really well, considering he hadn't been out since our first trail ride back in March (?).

We saw a Golden Eagle being dive bombed by a pair of Kestrels, a Stellar Jay, several Meadow Larks, and a bunch of killer bunnies. We were also attacked by (through a fence) by that stupid Golden Doodle that caused such a bad spook when Ashke and I were riding back from the Mesa. The dog's owner was laughing and smiling at his dog barking at the horses, even though it should have been obvious the horses were spooky because of it. Sally and I asked him to call his dog off and he laughed and said it was a dog and if it was causing our horses to spook we shouldn't ride the canal. Ashke pinned his ears and went after the dog. Chasing it down the fence line and striking out with both front feet. It's a darn good thing the dog was on the others side of the fence. The guy was kind of a jerk. I'm a dog owner and I work very hard with my dogs to make sure they understand manners. This guy obviously did not. And since he was also very rich, I guess he figured he could do whatever he wanted. He and Sally exchanged a couple of words. She was being polite and said a couple of times that they were just having a conversation and he didn't need to be so nasty. Luckily, on our way back the dog was inside, although both Liz and I watched the house carefully to make sure he didn't set the dog loose on us.

It was the only downer on the day.

And we saw no snakes.

An eight minute mile is not bad. Reagan was racking and Ashke was cantering. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Riding With Wrangler

And by default, Denise.

Ashke was sound today when I led him out of the stall. It's the first time he's sounded that way since our first ride on the Mesa. He seemed pretty excited to see me and was really excited to find out that we were going for a ride. I groomed him and got him saddled and booted. I put the medium pads in the front boots and left his hinds bare. He was sound walking out. There was some hesitation on the front, but I really think it had more to do with getting comfortable with the boots, then tenderness in his hooves. Although, there was a half circle pawed in the shavings in front  of the door when I went to get him out.

He was so excited to be going. We rode with Wrangler, who is a huge TWH with a very fast walk. Ashke pretty much outwalks Cali, who has to trot to keep up. Today, Ashke trotted most of the ride. We made the loop in about an hour and a half.  There were several  kind of exciting moments on the ride. The most memorable was at about mile 2 on the map below:

At  about where the number 2 is on the map, we were walking down the hillside, headed for the sidewalk. Denise was in front of me on Wrangler and all of a sudden he went sideways. This is why.

Can't really see it can you? We could hear it though. I thought it was further up the trail and was trying to locate it so Ashke would be safe and it was actually between where I was and where Wrangler had stopped. It warned Ashke and I as I started to move toward Wrangler, which is when I finally located it and snapped the picture. (I used the telephoto option on my camera. We were about fifteen feet away.)

Using iPhoto, this is what we rode past:

 It was coiled to strike and was pretty upset at being disturbed by the horses. Wrangler was kind of spooky, but Ashke was pretty oblivious, which surprises me, since I would expect Texas to have more rattlers than Colorado. We were kind of gun shy about going into the grass again.

Ashke was pretty looky up until he realized we were headed for home and then he got very forward. He danced and jigged and did this beautiful trot with his head vertical, all soft and collected, which I pointed out to Denise is what I would love him to do all the time, but which he only seems to be able to do when he wants and only on the way home.

We had four bolts. One as we left the lake and he charged up the hill, so out of control I had to use a modified version of a one rein stop to get him slowed down. The other three times were when a motorcycle roared up behind him and he reacted. (This is residual behavior based on being chased around the pasture in Texas by the ATVs.) Every time he took off, I was able to rein him in and shut down the behavior. The saddle helped with that a lot. I feel so safe and secure in it I can't begin to explain how good it feels.

When we got home, we had managed the ride in about an hour and a half. I forgot to turn off the app, which is why it is says 9.43 (GPS malfunction) instead of 7.5. We averaged about 13 miles per hour. Wrangler could have made faster time than that if they had been pushing. Denise said they made the loop in 45 minutes last week, but if they had been moving that fast I don't think Ashke could have stayed up.

When I unbooted him the pad in the right shoe was pulverized. He is hitting the ground with that foot much harder than he is hitting with the left front. I think he is still compensating for the hip injury. I may need to talk to N about possible remedies when I see her next. He sounded sound when I led him back to his  stall after rinsing him down in the wash stall. We will see what he looks like tomorrow when I go out.

60 Questioms

1. Dish face or Roman nose? Why?
Actually both. Queenie, my appy mare, had a roman nose and was a great horse. Ashke has an extreme dish and I love it. So, I like both a lot. My deepest preference is for a dishy face because to my eye it is more refined.

2. Mares or Geldings? Why?
I loved having a mare. I am thankful I own a gelding, however, because I know I would be tempted to breed the mare and have babies. There is nothing better than a foal. EVAH. And geldings are less hormonal than mares, so that makes them overall easier.

3. Do you think warmbloods are over-rated?
I think warmbloods excel at what they are bred for - which is jumping and dressage.

4. Describe your dream horse.
He is 15.1 hands high, fleabitten grey, with soft, intelligent eyes and a nicker at me when I arrive. He might not have been the horse I would have chosen, but he is my dream horse.

5. What kind of bit do you use and why?
I use the Rockin' S Raised Snaffle bit endorsed by Mark Rashid, 4.5" wide. It is narrow and designed for a horse's mouth that is shallow (low pallet).  From the website:

The Rocking S Raised snaffle operates in a completely opposite manner inside the horse’s mouth. As mentioned earlier, the three-piece mouthpiece, is ported. It also lies back in the horse’s mouth, toward the molars, instead of forward, toward the horse’s front teeth. In addition the mouthpiece lies relatively flat on the tongue. With this design, instead of the bit closing down and acting like a nutcracker when pressure is applied to the reins, the mouthpiece actually opens up in the horse’s mouth relieving pressure on the inside. It seems to be this part of the design that is popular with the horse’s we’ve tried it on. The vast majority of horses we’ve tried the bit on are immediately softer, quieter and more willing. Another benefit we’ve noticed is this allows the softness in the rider to come out as well.

6. Stock horses or sport horses?
I don't even know what that means . . .

7. Favorite horse color?
What is it that Mark Rashid says, a good horse is never a bad color?

I love grey's with dapples, dark bay, bright bay, red dun with dorsal stripe, mouse dun with dorsal stripe and leg stripes, old-style appaloosas, and I've really fallen in love with the grey Arabs with dark red or grey manes and tails.

8. Least favorite horse color?
Just plain brown.

9. Dressage or Jumping?
Trail riding. I will never jump and dressage really doesn't appeal to me, even if I can see the value in some of the discipline.

10. Favorite stock horse breed?

11. Favorite Hot-blooded breed?

12. Favorite cold-blooded breed?
Black Shire with white feathers

13. Dapple grey or Fleabitten grey?
Fleabitten grey

14. Most expensive piece of tack you own?
My saddle.

15. When did you start riding?
At about the age of four. Spent all of my free time between the ages of 8 and 18 on the back of a horse.

16. Leather or Nylon halters?
I like nylon because of 1) price, and 2) color choice (although J won't let me buy a new one. )

17. Apples or Carrots?
Carrots by far. Not real excited about apples

18. Chestnut or bay?

19. Palomino or Buckskin?
Buckskin or as we call them in the west - mouse dun with dorsal stripe

20. Lazy horse or Hot horse?
Hot is always better and more fun.

21. Have you ever been trail riding? 
It's all I really want to do.

22. Have you ever had to put down a horse that you loved?
I've had two horses die on me, one from a misdiagnosed twisted intestine (we would have had him put down if I had known, but I was 15 at the time and had no idea.) And the second one from genetic defect the same year.

23. How many saddlepads do you have?
One. I had worked my way through four, however.

24. How many bridles do you have?

25. Favorite saddle brand?
I don't know if I have a favorite saddle brand. I do know that I really like the Trekkerland by Prestige I am currently riding in.

26. Beige or White Breeches?
I have no idea why you would want to wear either color. I assume this is a show thing. My breeches, which I moved into after being seriously rubbed raw by my levis, are dark blue.

27. Least favorite discipline?

28. Do you own a horse?
I am owned by Ashke. I am a proper servant and pick up the cost for room, board, treats, etc.

29. Do you collect breyer horses?
I did when I was a kid. Wish I still had them.

30. Favorite color of saddle pad?

31. Private barn or Boarding stable?
I have no idea what the difference in these two are. I would assume I am in a boarding stable - they do feeding, cleaning, repair and have four trainers on site.

32. Opinion on spoiled riders?
What is a spoiled rider? I would guess that all of the people at the barn I am at have horses because they love them. There aren't a bunch of kids there, mostly it's older riders who are in the same place I am - working to ride, because they've had horses in the past or they've always wanted a horse. They do it out of love and admiration for the horse.

33. Have you ever ridden tackless?
I spent my childhood riding without a saddle or pad. There were times when I rode with just a rope around my horse's neck.

34. Have you ever stood up on a horse?
Yep. Not so much any more.

35. Overo, Tobiano, or Tovero?
Medicine Hat

36. Favorite face markings(s)?
Long forelock. Some kind of white on the face.

37. Why you started riding?
Because I could. It was what I was born to do.

38. Does anyone in your family ride?
My mother used to and my youngest brother started riding at three. I am the only one still riding.

39. Have you ever owned a horse?
At one point I owned six.

40. Something you want to improve on?
Communication in the saddle with Ashke

41. A bad habit you have?
I like to start conversations with someone just as they are leaving the room.

42. A bad habit your horse has?
Nipping. Although he has gotten better.

43. How high have you jumped?
I can get, maybe six inches off the ground, but I don't ever try because it would have bad consequences.

44. Have you ever had a dressage lesson?

45. What really makes your horse spook?
Bunnies and birds

46. Trail riding or ring work?
Trail riding all the time!

47. Indoor or Outdoor arena?
Indoor during the winter, no arena whenever I can.

48. Colorful or plain saddle pads?

49. Do you like horses with blue eyes?
Queenie had a blue eye. I loved it.

50. Have you ever gotten into a fight with your trainer?
Never had a trainer

51. Light bay or Dark bay horses?
Dark bay

52. What is your equestrian dream?
To ride in the Kentucky Derby. (That was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

53. Long mane or Pulled mane?
Long mane, although his looks like a pulled mane right now.

54. Opinion on fake tails?
I don't understand the question.

55. Least favorite thing about your barn?
It's too far away from my house. I am so jealous of N, because she can see Cali from all of her windows.

56. Favorite thing about your barn?
The indoor arena and the access to trails. And the Mesa.

57. Have you ever ridden a stallion?
Yep. And also helped with handling for a show in Southern California. Not that I would keep one, mind you.

58. Socks or no socks on a horse?

59. Favorite horse names?
I like Thee Ashke. And Cali's name fits her. Other than that, I don't have an opinion.

60. If you could ride any horse in the world, which one would it be? Why?
  Secretariat in the Belmont. It was my deepest dream to be a jockey, which lasted until my sixteenth year when I grew nine inches in less than three months and outgrew the ability to jockey.

Friday, May 24, 2013

And Then This Happens . . .

So, last night I went to the barn after rescuing T from his final day of school. (I have never been so relieved in my life!!) Ashke is still just a touch sensitive, but not by much. I had Cinnamon check his legs for me and she didn't find anything wrong, so we are going with sore tooties. I decided we were going to ride, so I groomed and saddled up.

We went to the big arena and worked on opening and closing the gate, which would be so much easier if the gate wasn't as heavy as the car. Swear. At least 1000 pounds to swing open and closed. Anyway, Ashke did pretty good with it, all things considering. Then we rode around the arena and I let him travel at the speed he wanted to go. We did some trotting and a couple of short canters. Both with wild, veering sideways leaps at the most innocuous things that he had managed to walk past without blinking an eye, but found suddenly much scarier when we are traveling faster. It was fun.

After about fifteen minutes of that, we revisited the gate and went outside the arena. I walked him over a four inch ditch (which is really rather difficult for him - I swear he thinks it's the freaking Grand Canyon), over a mock wooden bridge, past a mailbox and around a set of tires. About then I saw N pull into the subdivision, waved and rode over (which was all done at  a fairly energetic trot). We chatted a bit and then she needed to go home and I saw L and her daughter M riding out on Taffy and Smarty. I said goodbye to N and asked Ashke to ride over to the other horses. He burst into a gallop. It took me a good couple of seconds to get him back under control and slowed down before we got to them. It was very exciting. They were just doing a bit of a ride out of the arena around the property. We rode together around the end of the dressage ring and started up the far side when Taffy suddenly began her version of a rodeo horse. L got her stopped and got off. L was very upset and said something about how this is the reason she wants to sell Taffy.

Taffy is a nice looking palamino QH, with the typical QH build. She has had one foal and is pretty out of shape. L says she does great in the arena but has thrown her both times she has tried to take her out. I really think L was planning on dumping her in her stall and leaving her alone. I said to L, "You need to take her to the round pen and work her ass off." L looked pretty startled. Ashke and went with her to the upper round pen and I walked L through the process.

L turned Taffy loose in the round pen and told her to canter. Taffy did, but there was no work involved. She was in this sweet little lope she could have done for hours. I told L to make her work, to drive her forward out of that comfort zone. I asked M to bring her mom my carriage whip, because there is nothing more frustrating than chasing around your horse with a set of reins while the horse freaking laughs at you. Things changed when L took the whip and she was able to really start working the horse. She drove her at a canter in both directions, while I walked her through the process. Once Taffy was pretty puffy, I told L to let her stand as long as she was focused on L. Once she started looking around, L made her move forward. By the end of twenty minutes or so, Taffy was paying pretty good attention to L, moving to follow her commands briskly, and linking up when L wasn't asking her to move. Taffy had worked up a pretty good sweat and although I still think there was some residual issues with the mare, she was much more responsive to L afterwards.

L got back on her and rode her around the round pen and Taffy was very good. I opened the gate, swung back on Ashke and we rode out and around the upper paddocks together. Taffy didn't even blink an eye. She was very good. L said if I hadn't talked her through working her in the round pen, she just would have thrown her back in her stall and gone home mad. I told her we wanted Taffy to understand behavior like that was going to make things more difficult and that a nice, easy ride around the property was so much easier than running in circles at L's beck and call.

It ended up being good for L, at least. I think it gave her a little bit more confidence in handling Taffy. I told her she needed to decide which horse was going to be her horse (Taffy or Jonesy - who she wants to buy as soon as she has sold Taffy) and stop playing in the middle. If Taffy is it, then she needs to do some ground work, lunging, taking her out and actually riding her, instead of paying someone to do the work for her. If she wants a made horse, then she needs to sell Taffy and buy Jonesy. Unfortunately for both of them, she loves Taffy and feels sorry for her. She was pretty badly abused when L bought her. She just doesn't like her very much.

This opens a whole nother can of worms about people being sold horses they can't handle because they fall in love with how they look. Or because the horse is offered as something it's not. A topic for another post on another day.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Being . . .

Mark Rashid, in his book Horsemanship Through Life, writes that if one wants to be soft and build relationship with horses, they need to model that throughout their lives. He goes on to say that you can't yell at your kids, be mean to your wife, beat your dog, run other drivers off the road and then be soft with your horse. If you want to be that way with your horse you have to model that in all of your relationships.

That really struck home with me . . .

I try very hard to be the same person all the time. You'd think it would be easy, right? But really, it's not. It's hard not to get angry when you are cut off in traffic or someone won't let you in, but it doesn't seem hypocritical fifteen minutes later when you are the person hitting the gas to cut off the person trying to move into your lane. Part of my journey in this lifetime is modeling who I want to be all the time, regardless of the circumstances, regardless of the timeframe.

So, what does that look like? It looks like not fighting with my soon to be wife. It looks like not yelling at my kid when I am feeling frustrated. It's not whacking the dogs on the butt or Ashke on the shoulder when I am feeling frustrated and angry that they don't get whatever I am asking them to do. It's using humor and conversation to really find out what is bothering J, or why T is angry and slamming doors. It's not taking the destruction of property seriously when the puppies decide to chew up Rockies tickets and cash the cat knocked off the counter for them. It's not screaming at the dogs when they take food off the counter while I am getting something out of the refrigerator. It's not being short and terse with T when we leave the house fifteen minutes after it's time to catch the bus. It's being patient. It's listening. It's not taking things so seriously. It's taking responsibility for my own reactions when I've had a bad day.

None of this is easy when hormones are involved. About ten years ago now I started menopause and the one constant emotion I had to deal with was anger. At that time I was given the Lakota name of Badger Woman (Ihokawin) by Uncle Daniel (a Lakota man who adopted our family) to remind me to be wary of my anger. Badgers are very quick to anger, very protective of their family, and Uncle Daniel gave me that name to raise my awareness. I helped. It made me much more aware of the consequences of my actions and the ramifications of untimely explosions. (I'm not a fighter, I'm a lover, but living with someone that is perpetually angry is no fun on any level. It's like living next to a hive of yellowjackets. The incessant buzz kills all joy.) Thankfully, my hormones and menopause journey have leveled out and tailed off just in time to deal with the hormones and anger issues of a thirteen year old man-child just on the verge of developing into a bearded, brooding teenage man.

So, how does this combine with the joys and frustrations of owning Ashke? I need to remember to be calm and patient. I don't have an issue with dealing with Arabians, because I love the energy, the constant up, the almost-hyper awareness of surroundings, but I do sometimes get a little frustrated with the lack of what I see as progress. I want to grow our relationship to the point where we become a centaur, where the connection is so tight and complete that I can think about what I want and the horse does. I get impatient that it hasn't happened yet. I worry that he's not going to have the mental fortitude to handle long rides and weary legs and quick paced gymkhanas, and backcountry trail rides and camping in Wyoming and maybe a couple of LD's. (I have seriously reconsidered my desire to ride the Tevis, considering the number of horses that seem to fall off that trail.) It's having fun with my horse and spending time developing our relationship.

Like most things, this is a journey.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Staring At His Head

Show of hands . . . how many of you do this?

I was thinking about Ashke this morning and getting him back to moving forward. We were doing better last summer at Christianson's than we are right now. I have managed to completely bottle him up at the trot. He has no idea what I am asking for and is frustrated by our process.

I don't think it is helping to stare at his poll, right between his ears. It is my favorite place to look when we are riding in the arena. I wonder what that feels like to him. I wonder if it's like when you are in school or at home trying to do something and you can do it just fine as long as no one is looking, but as soon as you try to do it for someone, you fumble it. And you can feel them glare at the back of your head. I wonder if that is how Ashke feels when I ride him in the indoor.

I don't do that when we trail ride. When we trail ride I am looking at everything else around me. I am watching for the types of things he might suddenly want to go sideways at. I am looking for uneven ground or large rocks or the smoothest path. Sometimes I'm looking at the mountainside or the deer or passing horses or oncoming cars. When we ride out, I rarely look at his ears.

In Horsemanship Through Life, Mark Rashid has a chapter where he talks about being present and riding your horse. What he means is that you have to constantly be riding, not daydreaming about work or TV or what you are going to cook for dinner. I find that I can not let myself get lazy or distracted when we ride out, because he will go sideways to bring me back to the present. So, needing to ride and be present and be aware are the reasons I don't have the time or inclination to stare at the top of his head.

The problem is there isn't much to look at in the arena. I guess there are jumps to look at if you are jumping. But we don't jump. I can stare at the dirt path I want him to follow, but that eventually leads back to my staring at his ears. Even when I am riding in the middle of the arena, up and down, I stare at the ground right in front of him, which is almost the same as staring at his ears.

I think I need to stop worrying about what he is doing at the micro level and start worrying about the overall action. Our overall path. Our moving forward.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sunday Ride

I started to put my new plan into effect today. I rode Ashke with a loose rein as much as possible. I used my words to cue him and we rode most of our six miles at a trot. But I get ahead of myself.

J and T brought their bikes out to ride with Ashke and I. We left TMR and rode through the suburb to the trail access. Ashke was pretty up and convinced he should be in J's hip pocket. He behaved as those J and T on the bikes were his herd and he got more difficult when they both got way out in front of him. For the most part, J biked next to me while T went free range.

After we got on the trail, we decided to ride the canal instead of going around the lake. This was a great decision, since the wind was blowing pretty hard in our faces going home, and T got kind of grumpy. T had said to J that he hated having to wait on the horses, so I made a real effort to keep Ashke up and moving.

We did a lot of trotting. It started a little rough, but got better as we went along. I think Ashke was a little confused by the release of pressure on his mouth and kept looking back at me when I was asking him to trot. I just kept asking him to move forward. He has developed some really bad habits based on his feeling like I was asking him to move forward and stop at the same time. He reacts with a conflicted trot where he keeps trying to pop up and canter. I didn't realize until the last time I rode him how badly twisted up inside he was. It's going to take some time to unlearn what he has internalized. The nights when I am working him in the arena I will focus on moving forward without trying to get him to release to the pressure. I also want to continue working on neck reining and backing with light pressure.

We had a couple of very nice canters. When we turned back on our trail for the barn Ashke broke into a canter that became a real struggle between us. I really think he would have been very happy to run the entire ride home. I got him down to a dancing trot for a couple of miles. I had to have a tighter hold on him than I wanted to for a bit, just to get him to settle, but as soon as he started listening again, I released the pressure. I found he was lowering his head and bringing his head vertical much more frequently with little to no pressure when I was trotting him on a loose rein than he has been giving me in the arena with a lot of contact on his mouth.

We had a couple of decent spooks. And one pretty scary moment for Ashke when we had to stop and inspect a hoody someone had thrown over a sign post. He is so pretty when he is arched and quivering and focused on something that might eat him. His feet seemed to be okay. J says she can't see anything, but I can still feel just the hint in the front right. I treated his foot with the farrier stuff before we rode out. It actually made it much easier to take the boot off after our ride.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Changing Course

I've tried really hard to ride Ashke the same way N rides Cali. It's been a very long time since I worked with a horse and even longer since I tried to train a horse to do all of the things I really want a horse to be able to do. I thought it would be an easy thing to train Ashke to do some dressage, in combination with trail riding, in part because dressage is so pretty. I have been riding him almost a full year and I can tell you we are doing worse now than we were six months ago. He knows a lot, but we still can't find and maintain a steady, consistent trot.

J came out and watched me ride today, so I asked her on the way home what she thought. She thinks the same thing I do - that trying to work with pressure on his mouth is not making him happy.

It has been a long time coming. I watch other people ride and when they apply pressure the horse lowers it's head to relieve the pressure and is given a release. Ashke braces against the pressure to the point where I'm pulling back on him and he's pushing against me with his mouth wide open. Everytime I ask him to drop his head, I get the opposite reaction. It really frustrates me. It seems to really frustrate Ashke. This style of riding isn't going to be what we are good at.

 At one point today I was trying roll-backs and every time we went to stop, Ashke braced his jaw against the bit and would just keep walking into the pressure. We even struggled with backing, which he is able to do with the lightest touch and verbal command. It was escalating into a fight. Finally, I gave him his head (no pressure on the bit) and verbally asked him to stop. He did. It was like a light bulb went on in my head. I need to ride with a western style, rather than continue to fight him like I was doing.

J confirmed what I was thinking when I asked her opinion. She believes he only wants me to initiate pressure when there is a change in what we are doing. He has already started necking reining really well and he understands what I want as far as backing and turning go. I can start working on sidepassing and cantering on a loose rein. And the trot. We still need to figure out the trot.

I also got some foot stuff today that's supposed to help with tenderness. It's not a packable, it just brushes on, but it should encourage his hoof to toughen up.

Tomorrow we are doing a trail ride, come hell or high water.

And finally, J and I ordered rings today for our civil union ceremony some time in August. Woot. After 17 years she is finally going to make an honest woman out of me. :) Or at least make our relationship legal. I may be a lost cause.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Not Sore

So, I went to the barn tonight after work and decided to test Ashke in the round pen first and if he was moving okay, I would work him in the training system. He left his food when I walked in the stall and stuck his head into the halter for me. He seemed pretty happy to see me and at least somewhat interested in working. I took him to the grooming stall and set to work getting the mud off of his right side.

From the left he looks white. From the right he looks somewhat pee colored.

Such an attractive look.

He and Cali are both shedding pretty good, even though I would have thought they had both lost their winter coats. I spent lots of time scratching him with the stiff rubber curry comb (as compared to the medium curry, or the soft curry. Yes, it is possible to own too much tack.) And then finished with the stiff, short bristle brush. He enjoyed it. I then put boots on his front feet. I figure as sore as he has been, I need to be vigilant until his toe grows out.

I took him out to the round pen and let him move around at the trot and walk. I hadn't brought out the carriage whip, so he basically wasn't taking me seriously. Sometimes it pays to walk softly and carry a long whip. I left him in the round pen and went to get my stuff. I grabbed the carriage whip, the training system and my bridle. As I was headed back out I saw N and Cali walking down the barn aisle. I hollered at N (hollering is something you do in the West) and she turned around and followed me out to the round pen.

Ashke was very excited to see Cali and flipped his head at me when I explained I wanted him to work. He was the smallest touch tender in the right front for five or six circuits and then he seemed to move okay. I don't know if he was stiff or sensitive, but it seemed to work itself out. I stopped him and geared him up. He stood without being held while I tightened the girth, although he did nip at me which I ignored as a matter of course (I really think he nips to try and get a reaction out of me, and I am hoping that by not reacting he will stop). Once I got him all hooked up, I slid the butt brace down against his back legs and asked him to move forward. He pitched a little hissy fit at the pressure against the back of his legs, but gave it up pretty quickly.

N talked me through what I was asking him to do. She had me drive him forward at a much faster gait than I usually do, and had me watch his back feet. She was having me make him track up, so his hind feet land in the same spot his front feet just lifted from. Once he was moving that fast, with his head lowered, you could see his back come up. I worked him to the right first and N said he was counter bending to the outside. He does that a lot and I think it's left over physical dynamic stuff from when his right haunch was injured. He has a hard time moving forward and turning to the right, even at the walk. It was better after I turned him and worked him from the left. He loosened up a touch and was able to move better to the right the next time I turned him.

N said he looked really good. Ashke was relaxed and chewing on the bit, even as I was asking him to move up under himself. N agrees with me that as we work in that training system he will learn to accept and welcome contact on his mouth while I am riding him. Then maybe he will realize I want him to reach down instead of reaching up. It takes time and I am still learning myself.

After fifteen minutes or so, I had him stop, remove the rig and then removed his boots. They are so hard to get off - they fit his feet really well. Once he was released from all the gear we let him and Cali wander around eating grass together. Ashke never crowded her and they both seemed to enjoy the company. They got to graze for half an hour or so, and I was mean and made Ashke cross the overgrown ditch twice as training practice. Then it was back into his run with carrots. He seemed happy.

Hopefully, N will find time this weekend to ride. Maybe we can ride out on Sunday. Either way, inside or out, I need to work on my stuff.

As an afterthought, has anyone used Sore No More poultice for helping a horse not be tender? I would like to get some for Ashke, but wanted to make sure that is the best product. There seem to be a couple of products and Sore No More got the highest reviews. (There was another product that worked well, but seemed to have application issues.) I would love to know what everyone thinks. I'm thinking that if it works the way it claims, putting some on Ashke would be beneficial.

Tomorrow I get to spend the day at the amusement park with my son and a group of seventh graders. Then I get to watch their band concert. That's right - band geeks get to get out of school and go to an amusement park for the day, then play for 20 minutes and go home. Should be fun. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Last Night

Last night was the last dose of Bute for Ashke. I went to the barn immediately after work and when I walked in his stall he was standing at the far end of his run in the sun. The end of his nose is sunburned a little (he must be looking at the clouds for that part of his nose to be sunburned) but he seems to be enjoying the rays. I stood in the doorway of the stall, looking down the run at him. He nickered and walked to me. I turned and dumped the carrots in his feed bin, then when he had a mouthful, I slipped the bute into his mouth and squirted it along the side of his tongue.

He wasn't able to spit it out and after making faces at me, he ate his carrots.

I noticed his water buckets were empty, so I took them to the wash stall to fill them up. It took forever. When I got back, he was back at the far end of the run in the sun again. I walked to the doorway to say goodbye, wondering if he was going to trot up to me. The horse in the run to the left of where I was standing stuck his head over the run to try and entice me to pet him. I didn't, because I knew it would upset Ashke and I wanted to see what he would do. Ashke's ears came up and then he trotted down the fence line towards us. About half way down he pinned his ears and began flicking his nose at the horse next door. When he got up to me, he buried his face against my chest.

I guess he announced that I am his.

Green-eyed boy.

Monday, May 13, 2013


I finished Mark Rashid's book, Horsemanship Through Life, in kindle edition. It was a great book and one of the over all themes was the idea of connection with your horse, to the point where thought was all that was necessary for movement from the horse. I had that once, with more than one horse, but I don't have it now.

I need to figure out why.

A thought came to me yesterday, as I was finishing my very frustrating ride with Ashke. (He is sore on the front right again, despite riding in boots. We couldn't trot. We tried to canter and failed. He was a little tender at the walk. I talked to N and decided to treat him with Bute for three days, give him the fourth day off and then see if he is sound on Thursday. If he isn't, then I don't ride. I treat with Bute and give him Thursday and Friday off. If he still isn't recovered on Saturday, I'm calling Michelle.) I realized that I have been making excuses in my head for his being able to go.

What does this mean? It means that I am expecting him to have feet issues, or for his back to be sore, or for him to be lethargic. I can say it stems from him being emaciated when I got him and I am just being paranoid and cautious. However, I don't really think this is about him. I think it's about me. I think that deep down I'm afraid.

I'm afraid to canter. I'm afraid of the pain. I'm afraid of feeling out of control. I'm afraid of being tossed off. I'm afraid to face the fact that this is so much harder than I ever imagined. The image I have in my mind doesn't drag her right leg as she is swinging on. The image I have in my mind doesn't feel so exhausted she can't see when she finishes a ride. The image I have in my mind doesn't have to work to get this right, because I didn't used to have to work at it, it just was. It was something I have taken for granted. I really thought it would be the same thing this time.

I remember the last year of 4-H, when I was riding with a friend named Sharon. There were some gymkhanas we attended. One of the events was a double rider event. Sharon had a huge, 16.2 QH dun gelding with the largest butt I have ever seen, that she used for team roping. He was an amazing horse and she rode him really well. The event had me standing at the far end of the arena, Sharon would ride down and I would get up behind her and we would ride back. We practiced that manuever a lot until we had it perfected. Sharon would charge down the arena at a dead run, slide her horse to a stop next to me, reach out with one arm and grab me by my forearm, in an arm to arm grip. As I vaulted up, she would turn her horse in a rollback, sliding his butt under my vaulting ass, and bolt for the far end of the arena. I would grab for any thing I could and we would ride like the wind. Everyone else in the event had to stop and allow their passenger to mount using the stirrup. Once the dun figured out what we were after, we could make that turn in about 4 seconds. Sometimes he was so enthusiastic about the turn and Sharon was really pulling on me and I was jumping so high, I actually flew all the way over him and landed in the dirt on the far side, laughing so hard I couldn't get up.

I remember riding a little bay mare for the Gamblins. They had purchased her but were having a really hard time getting her not to buck when she was being ridden. She had thrown Amy and her dad and they were both a bit hesitant to get back on her. I got on her bareback and rode her around the round pen for an hour or so. We worked it out so she understood that I wasn't going any where. She tried to buck a couple of times, but I just don't ever remember being concerned about her behavior. I knew she wasn't going to get rid of me. By the end of that afternoon, she had settled down fairly well and had stopped throwing her fit. We were moving forward very well and she was starting to respond to the cues I was using from my seat and legs. I don't think they had any more trouble with her after that.

I remember a trail ride along a canal bank. I was riding with two other people and the canal was only wide enough for two, which makes talking a difficult thing. I was riding Queenie at the time. I dropped my reins over the saddle horn, then turned around in the saddle, moved back behind the cantle and rode sitting on her butt with my legs crossed indian style. For the entire day. Often, when I rode out with friends, on my way home I would lean back on the sleeping bag tied to the back of my cantle, cross my legs at the ankles on my horn and read a Louis L'amour or some other paperback book while Queenie carried me home.

I could swing down from the saddle, tap both feet on the ground and vault back into the saddle. On either side. I could ride bareback with just a rope around her neck all over our county. I could stand in the saddle and move from one horse to another without fear. I was more comfortable on the back of a horse than I have ever been any where at any time. I spent hours and hours and hours riding. Even in the early 90's, I would go out for an eight or ten hour ride and think nothing of it. I love studying maps to find new trails to ride. I only ever felt whole when I was on a horse.

That is the reason J has encouraged me to get Ashke and why she no longer stresses about the cost of horse ownership.

Now, I'm fighting the movement, which makes Ashke stiff and unyeilding beneath me. He doesn't know what I'm afraid of, he just knows I'm afraid. I've never had to work at this before, so I'm not sure how to go forward from here.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Famous Last Words

Remember when I said I wasn't EVER going to ride the Mesa again. HA!

There were a bunch of people in the arena yesterday, despite the wonderful weather. There were three different lessons going on and I just couldn't see competing with them. We went inside for a brief time, while I tested Ashke's temperment, but I just couldn't stay in. I had Ashke's boots on him and wanted to give him the opportunity to get accustomed to them.

N said there were people going in all different directions and she almost crashed into a couple of different horses. That didn't sound like fun to me.

Ashke did great going out by himself again. There was a lot of head shaking, but no serious argument. For the most part, he spent his time looking up the mountain.

This time I didn't walk Ashke up the hill. I rode him. He kept trying to jump forward into a trot, but I kept asking him to walk the incline. It's pretty steep and he was sweating by the time we got to the top. First time he's sweated during a ride.

We did take a breather half way up the climb to the top. Ashke was puffing and we both enjoyed the opportunity to gaze at the vista. 

There was no struggle going up this time. I didn't feel any weakness in his haunches. We did have a couple of moments on the ride where he moved forward without being centered, where it felt like he dragged his right hind leg, but it was more of a hitch than a collapse (which is what it felt like a year ago).

On the top of the Mesa, heading south on the Mesa Top Loop. Lots of rocks but Ashke did great in his boots. We went over rocks, through mud and some water, on grass and on gravel. We even crossed some granite slabs. The boots never slipped.

There were big piles of rock and the ground is basically granite and shale in some form of erosion or other.

We were riding on the south side of the Mesa top, about when this picture was taken, when Ashke took a step or to and was totally lame on his right front. I immediately stopped and swung off to check his boots. I couldn't imagine why he was suddenly lame. I undid the boots and discovered a rock the size of a quarter had somehow gotten between the top of the boot and the back of his pastern. I got it out, checked his heel bulbs and then redid the boots. We were good after that.

After the incident with the boots, I turned my iPhone on music so we could listen while we rode. Ashke liked Dobby Gray's Drift Away, but when Kate Bush's Running up that Hill came on and Ashke tried to run away with me. He did not like the music. I turned it off.

This is the start of where the trail drops off the top of the Mesa and snakes around the hill.

Ashke did great. He even stepped down some rock steps that had been created. He walked through a couple of small run off streams. I rode all of the trail I had led him down last time.

He kept turning his head and looking up hill. I'm really not sure why. I kept thinking he needed to be paying attention to the downhill. Some of the drop offs were worrisome.

It was such a beautiful day and Ashke was such a willing participant in our ride. We worked on walking past all kinds of boulders. 

He was a lot less stressed than I was about the drop off. I hate heights and had to work on not focusing on what might happen if he shied away from something on the hillside. He walked along like we were on a super highway.

We saw a skunk hiding under a rock, (could just see it's eyes and the stripe down the middle of it's face) and had a peregrine falcon soar over us almost close enough for me to touch. This was one part of the trail that I walked. The drop off was pretty steep and the trail was narrow. There were also a ton of bikers on the trail and it was starting to rain.

Do you see the fence to the right? I thought it was a horse catching fence and laughed to myself for a good five minutes. It's actually for catching rocks.

The way down from the ledge on the side of the Mesa to the canal was a series of switchbacks. Ashke got really nervous, so I ended up hand-walking him down them. That was probably between a quarter and a half mile. Once we got down to the bottom by the canal, I mounted back up. I figure next time I will be able to ride the entire route. Ashke was awesome about standing and waiting for me to get on him. Lifting my right leg and swinging into the saddle is difficult once I start to get tired.

It was raining, okay, sprinkling by the time we got to the canal. Our only bad spook of the day came along the canal. There was a house with a big poodle-golden mix who had raced to the fence and was watching us ride by. He waited until he were just going past him to start barking and lunging at us. I think both Ashke and I had dismissed him from our minds, thinking he was just going to watch. When the dog went nuts, Ashke spook and spun, then stopped right on the edge of the canal. Thankfully he stopped, because I could have been tossed off him and into the canal, which would have been a fifteen to twenty foot drop. That could have been very painful. Goes to show you he's not really trying to get rid of me. :)

When we got back to the barn, I unsaddled and took the boots off. His feet looked great. No heat or rubs. I took him into the wash stall and rinsed his back and legs off, removing the sweat and mud we had accumulated. I released him into his stall with peppermints and carrots. His favorites. We shall have to see how he is feeling on Sunday and how sore his butt muscles are. Overall, this is a great ride and one I expect to do again soon.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Getting Broken

From Horsemanship Through Life by Mark Rashid:

"Pretty much anyone who has been around horses for any amount of time can tell you - it isn't if you're going to get hurt, it's when. I don't want that to sound worse than it is, because the truth is that most horse-related injuries boil down to nothing more than stepped-on toes or minor cuts and bruises, particularly when it comes to the average backyard horse owner. However, there's always the chance of more serious injuries, and I suppose there just isn't any way around that."

My earliest memories are of riding. My parents had a friend who owned a horse ranch where he bred Appaloosas, back before the Appaloosa was cross-bred to the QH to create these stocky, big butt, spotted QH-looking animals. Uncle Merrill, as he was known to us kids, still bred the original Appy horse, sparse mane and tail, mottled skin around the muzzle, occasional blue eye, striped hooves and lots of spots. Appaloosas were more greyhound than pit bull, in comparison to the QH, and had great bottom line stamina. Uncle had 60 or 70 head of riding horses and we spent a lot of time on the weekends riding with him. I was riding tandem behind my mom by the time I was four and a half. From that moment, owning a horse was my deepest desire. It became my secret refrain every time I blew out a candle, saw my first star or sat on Santa's lap.

At the age of six, on the weekend near my birthday, we went to Uncle Merrill's ranch to ride. I was giving a palomino appy mare name Muffin to ride by myself for the first time. We had taken care of Muffin for a few months between the time I was four and a half and six. I think she was with us because my father was supposed to "break her" while we had her. Most of the time she was there that I remember was spent throwing my father into the chicken coop, or grazing peacefully while I was sitting in the saddle on her back. I could do that for hours. So, being able to actually ride her on my birthday was awesome.

I remember Uncle Merrill telling me to keep the reins short, but not really saying much else. I took those cowboy reins (this was in the 60's and the reins had to have been 15' long) and kept them very short. I had about eight inches from the end of the rein to where my fists were. The reins sagged in a long loop between my hand and the bit in her mouth. My father, with my little sister in front of him, led the way out of barnyard and down the road, then turned left and started climbing a hill to the ridge behind and above the ranch. Muffin, like any horse being given no direction by her rider, followed right up to the point where we were directly above the ranch on a trail that overlooked the corrals. At that point Muffin realized there were more horses down below than currently with her, whinnied loudly and started down the slope. I could hear my father yelling at me to pull back on the reins, which I was doing. I had my arms stretched above my head, lifting the reins as high as I could possibly lift with my six year old arms, which had no noticeable effect on the horse. Muffin, taking no more notice of me than she would of a bird perched on her back, moved from a walk, to a trot, to a full blown canter down the hill. At that point I grabbed for the saddle horn and held on.

At the bottom of the hill was a fence which lead to a irrigation ditch that was dry and about eight feet across. Along the tops of both banks of the dry ditch were planted Russian Olive trees. Muffin reached the fence and turned right toward the ditch. On the far side of the ditch was the dirt road, down which my mom and Uncle were riding. Muffin took the shortest road between two points by snaking her way through the Russian Olive trees, down the ditch, scrambled up the far side, through another line of trees, down the far side of the ditch to end up in the middle of the dirt road right in front of my mom and Uncle M. During that tumultuous ride, I had hunkered down behind the saddle horn and hung on for all I was worth. The long, sharp needles of the Russian Olive had cut my arms, legs and face as I went through. They had also pulled out some of my hair. I was crying and scared and in quite a bit of pain.

The first words out of Uncle M's mouth were a shock. He snarled at me to sit up and stop blubbering if I wanted to be allowed to ride his horse. I did. He then commanded me to shorten my reins, which I was still holding onto, by the way. I shortened them to where I had them before and he angrily moved his horse forward and showed me the proper length. My mom suggested he tie a knot in the reins so I would have something to hold onto and he replied that no one rides one of his horses with a knot in their reins. Nothing was said about my state or the blood flowing freely from the scratches on my arms. I think that was the moment when I recognized that riding horses could be a painful process, that sometimes you bleed, and you just have to accept that as fact, if you are going to ride. I learned that lesson, plus I am physically unable to ride with a knot in my reins. (In my 40+ years of riding I have only knotted the reins once and that was because of extreme circumstances.) The experience didn't put a stop to my constant request to become a horse owner, however.

On my eighth birthday my parents got me a shetland pony. In my opinion, Shetlands are the horse equivalent of a chihuahua. They are short and mean by nature. Seabisquit was purchased from my Uncle on my father's side, who talked him up a lot. He didn't mention the fact that Seabisquit was mean, had horrible ground manners, had a mouth deader than a doornail and loved to run under trees and clotheslines whenever he could to scrape his rider off. We were told he was a great beginner horse, had a lot of show experience in 4-H and would be a great mount for someone who had never ridden before. (I still do not understand my father's family. I wonder if they would have felt any remorse if I had been killed because of the pony they sold us. Probably not, because you know, I am gay.)

Anyway, we got him home and unloaded him. I brushed him off and put the pad saddle we had got on his back. Now, for those of you who don't know, a pad saddle is like a thick saddle blanket shaped like an English saddle, with a girth similar to a belt, stirrups attached on either side and a canvas loop for a horn. We put on the bridle and away I went. That little shit bolted at a dead run and went under all thirteen apple trees we had in the pasture. The saddle, not really secured very well, slipped sideways, and so I spent a good three minutes hanging off the side of the horse at a ninety degree angle dodging apple tree trunks with my head. I finally gave up the ghost on the far side of the field when he ran for the fence. It seemed at that moment that letting go and falling was a better option than meeting the fence with my face. So, once again, pain and horses.

Things with that piebald piece of shit never got any better. Going away from home was usually okay. Heading home resulted in hell-bent-for-leather all out run with the bit between his teeth. There was no stopping him. If you made it home on him, he would run for the clothesline and off you would go, which wasn't fun. I learned to stay on until we were within walking distance of home, then I clubbed him upside the head with my hand, which caused him to toss his head up, allowing me to yank the bit from between his teeth. Having limited control of the bit for a short period of time provided the opportunity to slow his dead run enough I could bale off with limited risk. This was effective until I broke my hand. I was also thrown face first into a slat wood gate I closed between where I was riding and our house. It didn't keep me from riding - it just made me get creative with my dismounts.

When I finally got Queenie, we sold Seabisquit as quick as we possibly could. I spent our first winter training her and by the following summer, she was an awesome horse. At the county fair in August we placed with four blue ribbons and two rosettes. The following winter I had my first real serious riding accident. I was riding my horse home from a ride, bareback as was usual. I was riding on the shoulder of the road at a canter. There was a storm rolling in and Queenie wanted to get home. My neighbor drove up next  to me and I turned my head and saluted them. Queenie slipped right then and went down. I ended up standing on the asphalt looking down at the ground while Queenie rolled to her feet next to me. I grabbed her and led her toward the house. I ended up injuring the part of my back where the spine goes through the pelvis. I also got 37 stitches put in my face. I was thirteen.

I got thrown off steers, horses, bicycles and had a pretty serious accident on skis. We did the Little Britches rodeo every year, without helmets, and I got thrown a lot. I started riding horses for other people and got tossed a time or two off of them, as well.

When I got Keile in 1992, I got thrown some more. She was a half Arab, half Saddlebred. There were times when we would be cantering, I would see something half a second before she did, tuck and fly through the air to land on my heels if I was lucky, my butt or back if I wasn't. But the final fall that really messed me up happened riding a dude ranch horse in Yellowstone. I got tossed when I pulled my feet out of the stirrups and extended them past the horse's shoulder. I had a camera with an expensive lens and I opted to hold it and get tossed, rather than drop the camera and try to save myself. I didn't remember I was wearing a lumbar camera pack, with a solid edge along the top edge against my back. When I landed on my butt, I still had a hold of the reins and the horse jerked me back over the edge of the lumbar pack. I tore muscles in the left side of my torso. They are now bunched against the edge of my lower ribs on the left side. I bruised my kidneys and spleen. I damaged the muscles that ran on either side of my spine. And I partially slipped the disc at the L5. It was almost a year before it slipped completely. When it did, I told J I would never ride a horse again.

It has taken six years of chiropractic treatment for me to be mostly pain free.  It took less than that for me to decide maybe I needed to do horses again.

I rode today with the Back on Track back support and that seemed to help.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Some More to Think About . . .

So the next passage that caught my attention in the book was a session Mark had with someone at a clinic. Paraphrasing:

The guy came out leading a nice QH gelding. The gelding was standing next to the man, half-asleep. The man told Mark he wanted to work on the gelding's disrespect. 

Mark didn't realize a horse could be disrespectful. Asked the man if the horse was being disrespectful right then. The man laughed and said no, but watch. The man moved to the horse's side and poked him in the ribs right in front of his flank. The horse pinned his ears, swished his tail and moved over. The man demonstrated a couple more times and pointed out the pinned ears and swishing tail as the horse being disrespectful.

Mark asked the man when he taught the horse that. The man said about a year and a half ago. Mark then asked how often they did it. The man said three or four times on each side every time they ride, and they ride about four times a week. The man asked again what he could do to make the horse not be disrespectful. Mark said, don't do that.

Mark went on to explain that the horse had it. The horse understood what the man wanted him to do, was willing to do it, but really didn't need to practice it any more. It would be there when the man needed it. The man was still confused, until Mark explained to him that it would be like the man learning one plus one equaled two every day from kindergarten to high school.

I think Mark makes a very valid point in this passage. Sometimes riders and trainers do things over and over again, as though the horse is suddenly going to forget what is asked if they aren't being schooled every day at the "Thing." Horses are smart. That's one of the reasons we work with them and enjoy their company. Once they've shown they understand what they are expected to do, then there is no reason to continue doing some of the mindless things we humans think they should be expected to do.

I haven't really focused on ground manners with Ashke, because he came with really good ground manners and he is always careful with me. When I need him to move over, I ask both verbally and with a touch on his side. He always steps away and has never inadvertently stepped on a foot. He never crowds, although he does prefer me to walk on his right side, which I find interesting because we horse handlers almost always work from the left. When he spooks, he is very careful to stay out of my space and although he has pulled back a time or two out of fright, he gives to the pressure and doesn't try again. The barn crew at both barns have said he is friendly and never gives them any grief. He doesn't fight being haltered and usually comes right to me when I come to get him, even when he is playing with the horse next to him.

The ground work I have done is working on obstacles, which I think never gets old. Asking him to walk past, over and around scary things will only help our trust level and confidence in dealing with whatever we find on the trail. I love working through obstacles and really wish there was a second outdoor arena that we could use for stuff like that. More importantly, Ashke likes doing obstacles. Yes, he does snort and spook and carry on sometimes, but then he works through it. I need to get PVC pipes and move the bending poles to the shed by the dressage arena so we can use them on the flat space where the western arena used to be. I also, eventually, want to get barrels so I can set up some of the obstacles they use for the obstacle trail rides offered. I think we would excel at that type of thing and it's a great way to spend time riding in the mountains.

So, then we move to riding. I think it is possible to over school your horse. I understand and appreciate the need for Ashke to learn the things he needs in order to be comfortable and balanced. I know that he needs to be able to canter on both leads. I want him to develop a smooth, flowing trot, because if we need to trot on the trail, I want us both to be comfortable. Schooling him in the arena is important. It's also important for me too, since I am still rehabbing my back and relearning to ride. (What I wouldn't give for my twenty something body.) I want him to be balanced at any gait, over any ground, going on either lead, in any direction, because those are the types of things that happen when you do trail riding. I would be less concerned with the balance thing, but with his recovery and rehab from almost starving to death, I want to make sure we work all of his muscle groups equally. I think coming back from losing so much muscle mass is much harder than working with the muscles you have as a juvenile.

Ashke doesn't mind riding in the arena, but he much prefers to be out. During the winter, riding in the arena is our only option unless it's the weekend and the weather is good. During the spring, summer and fall though, I prefer to ride outside and explore. I know Ashke prefers that too. I want him comfortable and balanced when we ride, regardless of terrain, which is why working on obstacles will help him on the trail. Cavelletti force him to be aware of his feet, to lift them when he walks over stuff, which incidentally strengthens his back. This will be incredibly helpful the next time we are on a trail that has tree limbs or actual trees in the way. Crossing ditches is a challenge we can work on, since it seems to be one of Ashke's kryptonite moments, and the farm has ditches. It also has a path down to the creek, where we might be able to practice creek crossings. (Rubs hands with glee). We have mountain hills to climb outside our barn (which now that I have boots for his feet, I'm contemplating doing again.) And there are a ton of rides we can do if we trailer out to them - Bear Creek, Vedauwoo, Red Feathers, Evergreen, etc.

So, my point? My point is that I'm not interested in doing the things that aren't going to 1) be fun for both of us, and 2) aren't going to really contribute to the overall success of our riding. If the exercise will help us go longer, go farther and go faster, I'm all for it. If not, then it's not really something we need to spend our time doing. If it's an exercise Ashke has figured out, then we don't need to continue to work on it.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

We's Gots Boots

Not a great picture but the barn was dim last night, even with the lights on. We are having another storm, which thankfully is dumping rain and not snow, and the grey light outdoors made it pretty dark indoors. Even with the lights on.

So, the boots arrived yesterday and even though I was planning on riding in the arena I had to try them on him and give him a chance to get used to them. They fit well, although I had a small issue with one of the back ones twisting just a touch and had to adjust it after walking him up and down the barn. He wasn't real excited about how they felt, but he didn't act up. I grabbed the lunge rope and took him into the indoor to let him get some of his agnst out. It was raining again and he didn't seem to mind walking through the puddles with the boots on.

In the indoor there were a bunch of people working with Rachel. I told her Ashke had boots on for the first time and that I wasn't sure how he was going to act. Rachel laughed and told her girls to move out of the way. I let Ashke do his thing, which included bucking with both hind feet trying to get the boots off. And then cross cantering in both directions. It wasn't cross cantering so much as it was moving both hind feet at the same time. I really think it was a trying to kick them off thing. He went in both directions for a few minutes, then suddenly stopped and looked at me.

Just as clear as day I heard him say, "Ok, I understand now and I got it. We don't need to run in circles any more."

I walked up to him and took him over to get his bridle on. He lowered his head and opened his mouth for the bit. We rode at the walk and a little at the trot, with me concentrating on moving with him, of letting my hips swing freely at both gaits. He was still favoring his right front foot. I think we packed some sand into the toe and that was putting pressure on that hoof. I wasn't planning on riding him for very long so I asked Sherl to open the gate so we could adventure out into the rain.

It had mostly stopped raining.

Ashke and I did a loop around the property. There were places where the ground was soft and spongy. There was slick grass. There was mud and mud puddles. And there were rocks. He handled all of those things with little issue, although he did have a couple of tender moments but they were very minimal. No sliding. The boots didn't suck off. I figured that was a win.

We went back to the barn and I unsaddled Ashke, then led him into the wash stall. I kept my back to him and played with a peppermint in my hand so he could hear and smell it, but not see it. He followed me in while tugging on my arm with his nose. I rinsed the mud off his boots while he nickered for more peppermints. Then we went back to the grooming stall so I could pull them off. The back ones came off easily. The left front was more difficult and the right front required a can opener and crowbar. Seriously. It was tough. I don't remember it being that tight when we were testing them.

I just know Michelle is going to make me rasp the sides of his hooves.

The boots were packed with clay mud. I rinsed them out really well and hung them to dry. I can't wait to try them on a real trail ride and am already dreaming about going back up on the mesa. Bad, right? I just think it'll be much better and we might both be brave enough to ride down. :) I just have to find someone who is willing to ride with me.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Something to Think About

I'm currently reading Mark Rashid's book, Horsemanship Through Life. It's an incredible story, so far, and I am gaining much insight into my own journey with horses. There are several passages that have resonated with me, that I wanted to share so I would remember later on. The first one is:

"I was trying to stay on the horse, not with the horse. When I rode, I rode on the horse, which very often turned into riding against the horse. When you ride against the horse, it often makes it almost impossible to move in the saddle. Once you stop moving while riding, you become stiff and mannequin-like."

This is something I need to work on - I need to relax, reconnect and move in the saddle. I know I'm not, in large part because of fear. Not fear of being thrown, I have set that fear aside in the knowledge that Ashke is not trying to dump me, but fear of being in pain. It all goes back to that damn L5 disc. For anyone who has never experienced the pain of a slipped disc, it is excruitating. ALL. THE. TIME. There is never a moment in my day when I am not aware of the pain, the potential for pain or the remembrance of pain. That constant state of mind is exhausting and counterproductive to the riding process.

One of the good things, is that I focus less on it when I am with Ashke. He becomes my focus. I only consider the pain when moving into gaits that are difficult, because of the motion, and start to react to the pain in my back. That ease of moving with the horse, that I had when I was a kid, is being blocked by my fear of the pain. I need to get back to moving with the horse, and allow the pain to pass through me without focusing on it. I know it's going to hurt. Focusing on it makes my fear of HOW BAD it's going to hurt increase, which increases my brace in the saddle.

I was watching a Parelli TV show (horse TV, who would have guessed we would have something like that!) and was watching Linda Parelli ride around the ring at a walk. It was a "Ah ha" moment for me as I watched both her horse stretch and move easily, and Linda's hips flex and move in rhythm with her horse. I knew at that moment, that was what I was lacking. I needed to free up my brace, relax against the pain, and let my hips move with Ashke. He's probably thinking, "What the hell is she doing up there?" and "What is she worried about?" since tension and stiffening is something horses do when they are afraid or worried. In this case, as so often, the difficulty with our gaits and movement is not that he doesn't get it - he does - he knows exactly how to walk, trot and canter - it's the subliminal messages I'm sending him that I'm not aware of that is tripping us up. This is exactly the reason why he is SO relaxed at the walk - because I am moving with him and relaxed. As we increase our gait, I become more tense and braced against the potential pain.

Years ago, I was struggling with back pain. It hurt to walk. I found myself shortening my stride and walking to protect my injury. I looked like a needed a walker. And it didn't help. It just made more of my muscles ache from the strange position I found myself twisting into in order to protect myself against the pain. I looked like I was ten seconds away from a wheelchair. One day, I thought to myself that I was making things worse. My trying to protect myself from the pain was making the pain worse. I decided to stop favoring my back, to walk like there was nothing wrong. I forced myself to step out like nothing hurt and then I discovered the pain diminished when I moved that way. My fear and trying to prevent it from hurting was contributing to the back pain.

I tried a back brace from Back on Track the last time I rode and that's not going to help. I may be able to wear it while I am doing other things, but it really inhibits the movement of my hips while I am riding. I am going to try taking off the running martingale and focusing on relaxing and allowing my hips to move at the walk. When I feel comfortable at the walk, we will start working on the trot. I am going to worry less about where his head set is or how rounded his back is and just focus on moving WITH him.