Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Mort - Finding Niches

Karen and I bounced on the truck seat next to her mother. We chattered and picked like a couple of magpies, too keyed up to listen when her mom begged, "Please sit still, we have a long drive ahead of us and you girls are driving me crazy!"
The truck groaned and clanked it's way down the highway. We were headed to the United States Air Force Academy on our way to compete in our first NATRC ride.

I had heard of the competitive trail riding group through my friend Karen. She and her mother had started to ride with a local trail riding club and were moving up to competition.

They invited me to come and Karen and I were going to ride together. I couldn't get over the concept. Being judged on trail riding with your horse. What a great idea! I felt like Mort and I would be a shoo-in on this deal. Because we were born to trail ride.

The ride was to take place over two days. There would be steep hills to climb, water to cross and hidden judges waiting to catch us riding our horses wrong.

There would be maps to follow and a time frame to finish our ride in. These were (and are) the sort of things that could make my head explode. There was no way my ADD riddled brain could follow a time table or make heads or tails out of a map.

But I could ride. My horse was strong and confident. I would just follow the lead of my more experienced friend and be fine.

We pulled onto the Academy grounds and wound our way into camp. There were woods everywhere. It wasn't that much different than Palmer Park. A little colder maybe, a little wilder, but that just made my excitement grow.

Finally we were doing something Mort would simply shine at. Nobody else I knew had a horse who could travel like Mort. This was going to be great.

We made camp and got our horses settled in. Karen and I hauled water and gave them hay. We made our bed inside the horse trailer on top of our hay bales.

"Excuse us girls...."

I stuck my head over the door of the trailer and was greeted by a couple of serious looking adults, both carrying clipboards and pens.

"Are you ready for your camp inspection?"

"What the hell is a camp inspection?" I hissed at Karen.

"Don't worry about it, they're just checking to see if we are taking care of the horses the right way," she answered.

Karen stepped out of the trailer with a welcoming smile to the judges and said, "I guess we're ready.

And ready she was.

The judges walked around her horse, Sparkle, looked in a few buckets and checked her lead rope and halter. They smiled and visited and Karen began to beam. I began to relax. This shouldn't be too hard.

As they came over to my side their smiles began to fade. My rope was tied wrong. The judges made me untie my horse, showed me how to tie a quick release knot and how long my lead rope should be and made me practice a few times.

My face burning, I did as I was told, even as my glance over at Karen's horse showed a neatly tied quick release.

My hay bag was too low, the area around my horse wasn't clean and my water bucket was hung where Mort could slice his face off when he tried to drink.

I kept glaring at my friend as the judges showed me what they wanted and made me comply before they moved on to my next transgression.

Why hadn't she told me any of this stuff?

Many humiliations and countless points later the judges finally moved on to their next victim.

"Jeez Karen, how did you know about all this stuff?" I asked.

"Me and Mom have been going to the club training sessions."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"I thought you knew."

"How would I know, I wasn't at those sessions."

"I guess you should have gone then."

It was slowly dawning on me there was more to this NATRC stuff than I thought. There was more to my good friend Karen than I thought too.

The soundness check went almost as well. Mort wouldn't trot for me and his shoes were too worn. He wasn't as clean as was required and he was rude when the judges looked in his mouth.

I saw them busily jotting down every detail of our ignorance and saw my chances of placing in this event slipping away before I ever through a leg over Mort's back.

As we walked down to the campfire for dinner and our trail meeting I burned holes in Karen's traitorous brain with my evil glare. She marched ahead of me and sat down with her mother. A demure smile graced her face and she attentively listened to the speaker as he discussed trails and times and agendas.

I didn't hear a word. My mind was spinning with thoughts of murder and betrayal. Karen was throwing my lack of money and a trailer at me just like everybody else did. She knew I couldn't go to those stupid training sessions. They cost money and I had bankrupted myself saving for the entry fees for this ride.

Why wasn't she telling me this stuff?

We headed back to our trailer and to bed in stony silence. It was perfectly clear to me I was on my own. I was going to have to tough it out.

I wrapped my arms around Mort's neck and snuffled into his mane. I pressed my face against his silky neck and could feel the rhythm as he chewed his hay. The sound of his chewing vibrated through me. The sweet smell of alfalfa and the sharp tang of the pines filled my nose and I felt my anger slip away.

We could do this. I didn't need her. What a butt.

Mort snorted and grunted as he swung his hay bag. A cool breeze whispered through our camp and I watched the shadows of the trees shift in the moonlight.

I stood leaning against my horse, breathing in his smell and listening to his stomach gurgle as long as he let me.

The next morning brought so much excitement I forgot to be angry at Karen. The trail was open and inviting and the day was just waiting to be tackled.

We mounted our horses and headed off into the woods. Mort trotted along easily, his ears flicking back and forth and his tail swinging in time to the beat of his trot.

Karen and I fell into our easy banter, the habits of hundreds of hours in the saddle erasing my fury from the day before. We cruised down the trail and headed into our first vet check.

Mort passed with ease, his slow steady heart beat such a surprise to the woman doing his P/R she called over the vet to double check.

"Why, this horse is in great shape, good for you," he told me.

I warmed under the praise.

Mort nickered and leaned into his lead rope. I saw Karen trotting off ahead of me. She had been cleared first and wasn't going to wait. I wrestled Mort into his bridle and swung into the saddle. He was anxiously trotting off before I even got my foot in the stirrup. I looked behind me and saw the judges busily writing away. Oh well.

I caught up to Karen and said, "Thanks for waiting."

She looked straight ahead and ignored me.

Mort was trotting in front of Sparkle when we came to the next judged obstacle. They sat in the open, wearing bright yellow slickers, midway up a steep incline.

I hesitated for a moment and made my way up the muddy trail. Karen stayed behind, waiting below us for her turn. I felt more than a little satisfaction as I watched Sparkle begin to paw and fuss. Mort wasn't the only horse who didn't like being left behind.

When I reached the judges they asked me to stop.

I turned Mort parallel to the hill and looked at them. Mort paid no attention to their crackling slickers.

"Dismount please."

I looked down. The steep incline fell away on my left side. I was stuck. There wasn't enough room to turn Mort the other way. I had been trained from day-one to dismount on the left.

I looked at the judges uncertainly. They looked back, impassive.

With a sigh I slid off on the left and almost continued on down the hill. Brief images of me rolling out of control only to be stopped by Karen's horse flashed before me.

I caught my stirrup and slipping and sliding, dragged myself up the hill. Mort stood like a rock, bless his heart.

I stood up and looked at the judges, wondering how I was ever going to get back on.

"Can't you mount your horse from the right side?"

"I don't know, I've never tried," I felt my ears beginning to burn.

"Do you want to try now? It will save you some points."

I walked to Mort's right side, feeling the total idiot and awkwardly stuck my foot in the right stirrup. Mort started to trot off as I unceremoniously dragged myself up.

"You're excused," the judge called after me, with more than a little sarcasm in her voice.

When we crested the top of the hill I turned and watched Karen climb the hill neat as a pin and dismount quickly and efficiently off the right side.

We rode to the next rest stop in silence.

As we headed into lunch a group of horses came up behind us at an extend trot. They were behind and racing the clock. Mort started to jig as they passed us. I held him in, knowing we were doing fine and needed to ride the rest of the way at a walk.

Mort's anxiety grew when I didn't let him go and he growled deep in his chest. He shook his head and began to lope, almost in place. Slime slung from his bit and we began to jig sideways, off the trail.

Suddenly Mort stumbled and sunk to his knees. I looked down and saw one foreleg buckled under him and the other pulled into a pile of logs and broken branches. He heaved himself back and up and got back on the trail.

"Oh no, look at his leg," Karen said.

One look at her pale face and I knew it wasn't good. I slid down and looked at his leg. Mort had a deep gash ending in a wicked puncture. Thick, dark blood oozed up out of the hole.

I led him the rest of the way into the vet check. The vet was summoned, Mort's leg was treated and dressed and we were pulled from the competition.

I was stunned. I sat by myself, glumly munching my sandwich and watching the rest of the riders. They talked and laughed among themselves.

Karen came over and sat down next to me.

"I'm really sorry you can't finish..."

I stared at her. The sadness in her eyes was real, but I couldn't make myself care. I stood up and began to lead Mort down the trail the vet had told me to follow. A trailer would meet me at the road, a quarter mile through the trees. The rain that had threatened all day began to fall.

As we walked through the trees Mort began to fuss. He jigged a circle around me, shaking his head and whinnying back to the other horses.

"Keep him quiet!" the vet called after me.

"You'll open that leg back up!"

The tears finally started. I jerked on my reins hard.

"Stop!" I yelled, "just stop!"

I jerked him again, once twice and again.

Mort flew backwards, pain and surprise in his eyes.

"You need to quit that," a quiet voice said behind me.

I turned and faced the stern faced judge from the hill. I stopped and looked shame-faced at my boots.

"You've had a bad go," she said, "it's no fault of the horse. This isn't about winning. It's about learning how to care for your horse."

I turned and led Mort down the trail. I ignored his fussing. I wiped my face and clenched down hard.

I stayed at camp the next day and doctored Mort. I led him out to the good grassy spots and let him graze. The vet came by and checked his leg. It was dry and there was no heat. The vet had me crouch down and learn the signs of infection and how to feel for signs of "mush" that would signal a tendon injury.

I nodded my thanks, but didn't say a word. I was done talking for this trip. I sat at the awards dinner and watched Karen get up to receive her second place award. I very carefully kept my emotions in check.

I thought a lot about what the judge had said to me. I sure didn't agree. It was all about winning. This sport may be about learning to take care of your horse, but it ended with winners and losers.The people who won had money and knowledge.

I intended to be a winner. If I couldn't get the money, I didn't see anybody stopping me from getting the knowledge. Except maybe myself.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Mouthy Mondays err....

Sorry I'm so behind guys. I was out of town for a bit, then slammed. So I'm a little behind. But I should be back on track.
Hope always springs eternal.

We have an extremely heartfelt story today. It's amazing how horses shore up the girls who are just not getting a fair shake in the world. There are so many of us who are damaged or in turmoil and we end up saved by our horses. I can't help but wonder if you have to be an outsider on some level before you even get invited in to be Horsaii. Am I nuts?

This comes from "forever indigo." I hope she comes back with a blog address.

I have decided to share a personal horse story with you.

It's not something that comes easy for me...I learned at a very young age to keep things you cared about close and private and at my age now (32) I still have trouble telling others about some things.

I can remember my first encounter with a horse or rather horses. It's emblazoned in my mind and will remain treasured for my entire life.

I was three years old when I came nose to nose with my first horse and from then on I knew my life had to include horses.

Sadly, no one else in my family agreed. My mother and I have never truly gotten along. Maybe it was that I was an unexpected baby and rather than going on with life as she wanted, she had me to now take care of.

As we grew up, my siblings seemed to have a much easier time with was just me that my mother always chose to pick on. It was always my toys that got taken away, never my sister's or brother's even though they we had all gotten in trouble for the same thing. It was always me that got the yells and screams for not making that A in a class when my sister or brother had failed the exact same one. I was constantly put down and the victim of many objects thrown in anger.

My father always seemed to be working but when he came home each day he made a point to take time for me.

Due to the treatment from my mother I had a hard time making friends. I also had a hard time keeping the few friends I had if they did not meet her criteria. She is a horrible perfectionist and seems to be almost obsessive about what people think of her. She is all about the image.

When I was 14 I met a girl in school named Sherri who had 3 horses. She used to show them in local 4-H shows and she did fairly well with them.

One day at recess I finally got up the nerve to ask her about her horses. It was like a dam had broken...she would talk for hours about them and bring pictures of them or ribbons that she had won at the weekend shows.

She asked me to come to the barn and ride and I was on Cloud 9! I went home all smiles and couldn't wait to ask permission. When I arrived home both my parents were there, Dad had taken the day off to do some work around the house. He could tell I was excited about something so he called me over and asked how my day went. With my mother there all I could do was stare at the floor, feeling my cheeks turn red.

He finally coaxed one sentence out of me..."A girl at school has asked if I can go and ride one of her horses this weekend."

My mother's immediate response was of course no. Unbidden tears welled up and rolled down my cheeks and from the corner of my eye I saw my father's face turn stony.

I was told politely (with a little squeeze from Dad) to go on to my room and get started on homework. Of course an argument started up as soon as my door was shut but it didn't seem to last very long and after an hour or so my mom huffed into the doorway and I was given permission to go for a ride! I learned something valuable that day...that my father was on my side.

My parents never came to the barn to watch me ride. I had been riding off and on for a few months, getting pointers from both Sherri and some others around the barn. Everyone seemed to be impressed with my riding and didn't believe I had only ridden a handful of times.

My mount was a trusty teen-aged dapple grey Arabian named Indigo. He was an old hand at the show scene and new his cues like I know the back of my hand. He was one of those good, honest horses that I have come to adore.

Every ride was treasured because I didn't know how much longer I would be allowed this personal privilege. Out of the blue one day, Sherri asked if I would like to come help out at the upcoming weekend show! Once again I was caught up with conflicting emotions...excitement at finally getting the option of going to a show, and that stomach-churning feeling I always got when I knew my mother wouldn't allow me to go.

When I got home and asked about it she glanced over at my father (who was watching over the top of the newspaper) and grudgingly gave me her permission. I was taught all that was required to prepare a horse for a show....the bathing, clipping, preparing for mind was a-whirl with new info! I groomed Indigo till his coat gleamed and he stamped at me in impatience. He went into his class looking like a million bucks rather than the scruffy buddy I had come to secretly love.

He didn't win...we lived in a QH town and when you showed an Arabian against a bunch of QH's you just weren't going to win unless you were spectacular, but he still was the best in my mind. I collected him as Sherri left the ring and gave him a rub on the forehead telling him he was a good boy.

Sherri looked at me and had that look in her eye she always got when she was up to something. "How would you like to take him in a class?" she asked. "You can take him in the Western Pleasure class and I can ride Sam and we can show together!"

I think the world slowed to a crawl at that point! We excitedly ran back to the trailer and started trying on different outfits...thankfully we seemed to be about the same size. Once dressed we tacked up the horses in their gleaming silver show tack...I still love the look of an Arabian in western show tack to this day.

Indigo seemed to feel all the excitement and once I was securely in the saddle he arched his neck and I swear pranced to the warm-up ring. Sherri's mother took care of signing me up and paying for the entry fee.

I was just about to burst from excitement and I am sure a lot of it transferred to Indigo since he seemed to be jogging on air, ears pricked forward, neck arched like a seahorse. I tried to ignore some of the looks I was getting (remember I was on an Arabian in a QH town!) but I was still nervous.

Then I happened to glance over at a group of people who where standing along the warm-up fence...and saw my parents standing there! My mother's jaw had dropped open...she looked stunned. My father, on the other hand, was beaming...grinning ear to ear. I had reined in Indigo and he was standing, chin tucked to his chest, pawing a little in excitement. I was suddenly terrified...what would my mother say about this?!

I didn't get a chance to find out because they called our class and it was time to enter the ring! Sherri rode up next to me and told me to just follow her lead and the judges directions and things should go fine.

I reached down and patted Indigo on the neck, smoothing his mane. He flicked an ear back at me and mouthed the bit. Once again we started that smooth, prancing jog and he and I just CLICKED. Every move was perfect...we nailed every lead, every transition. The whole time Indigo kept his ears pricked and that chin tucked...he was fabulous.

At the end of the class we all lined up...the judge made his decisions and handed them off to the announcer. One by one the numbers were called out...none of them ours. When they got to third place I again reached down and patted Indigo...he had given his best and I wanted him to know I appreciated him. They got to first place and our number still hadn't been called...Sherri had placed fourth and was waiting for me outside the arena.

I was getting ready to turn Indigo for the exit gate when they called our number out. I was stunned! We had won!

My father stood up in the crowd and cheered, Sherri yelped and came back to give me a hug! When I went to pick up my ribbon from the judge he complimented me on a fabulous ride. He told me that both Indigo and I were a very well matched team and it showed how proud I was to be riding him. He patted Indigo on the neck and I thanked the judge. I was so proud of him I leaned down and hugged his neck. He bobbed his head and wiped his nose on my knee then slobbered on my arm...what a good boy!

When I rode back to the trailer I found my parents already there. My father's face was lit up like a Christmas tree but my mother's was stony and closed. I slunk from Indigo's saddle and handed him over to Sherri's mom. I stood staring at my feet while my mother looked me up and down.

"Is this what you've been doing at the barn?" She snapped.

"Practicing for this..." she waved toward the show arena " show stuff??"

I mumbled some reply.

"Well..." she hesitated.."Keep it up. Seems your good at it."

She turned on her heel and made her way back towards our truck.

I went on to show Indigo in several more shows until he was retired. He lived to be a great old man of 34 and I thank him every time I set foot in the stirrup for teaching me how to ride. Hardly a day goes by that I don't think of him. I eventually went on to get some horses of my of which I will have to tell you about. But that is another story for another time!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Responsibility of Ownership

Hey guys, before I get going here, I have a question. I have "followers" on my blog page. I'm not sure what it is (I am an ignoramous, I know) but I see on the other blogs that people post them. Do you want me to do this? I will.

I guess this is part two from yesterday. I'm feeling a bit blue, I guess and I've been wondering about where and when we decide we can't afford a horse. What level of income justifies these beasts?

This isn't a new thought for me. I may have told you this story, but it weighs on me. You might here it again someday, what can I say?

Three years ago I was at a cowhorse event in Nebraska. I was on my yellow horse. She was three and this was her second competition. I had entered her in the $5,000 pro/am futurity and the open futurity. These events ran consecutively.

I was hesitant to enter the open because I was on my first (turned out to be last too) futurity horse and I wasn't feeling too confident. The Big K felt strongly that I needed to step up and ride with the big guns.

"You're not going to push hard enough if you don't ride scared," he told me.

"I'm scared enough, thank-you." I told him.

But, being the well behaved minion that I was, I went ahead and entered the open futurity.

Our first event was cutting. She wasn't great, but she wasn't terrible either. We ended up in the middle of the pack.

Our reined work was next. My little girl walked in all cute and alert. She rode off really quiet and we began to knock out a great reining pattern. I got more and more excited. She was really good.

I finished our pattern and was a little surprised at the silence from the crowd. I looked over and a friend of mine held up four fingers. I had over-spun and zeroed.

The judge had scored me anyway and my "wuddabeen" was a 73 or so.

I was sick. I really don't remember my fence run.

At the end of the futurity I had knocked myself out of a couple grand.

Then I wrote a check to the show office for almost $900.

It knocked me completely over.

What was I doing? How did I ever think I should be gambling like this?

I thought about the times I had gone to a show knowing my checks would bounce if I didn't come in the money.

I thought about the fact I was getting older. My daughter was growing up and I needed to get her through college.

I had lived on a shoestring, I guess that should be spur rowel, for too many years.

The show in Broken Bow was pivotal for me. It was the beginning of the end. I started writing this blog soon after. I truly believe I was getting myself organised so I could quit.

I keep going back to this train of thought. It's like poking the hole left after a tooth extraction with my tongue. It's icky, it hurts, but I can't quite make myself stop.

How much money should you earn before you take on a horse?

What level of care has to be guaranteed before you deserve to own a horse?

Do I have to insure them all before I can own one?

What if I can only provide pasture, shots, wormer and trims?

How much of my income should I be willing to sacrifice?

I have always felt horses were key to raising my daughter the right way. But could she have had as good of a life if I had been a teacher with benefits and insurance?

What happens if the economy sinks further? Am I morally bound to sell my horses in order to insure my family's security?

What if I turn them out on a ranch in Wyo. for a few years? Is that irresponsible?

I don't have any answers here. I know many of you are plagued with the same questions.

I am slowly crawling out of the financial hole I dug for myself. I think I might even get to show again someday. But I'm still worried most of the time.

The flip side of my dilemma is I would not be who I am today without my horses. Neither would my daughter. I like who we are. I like how we turned out. Horses have been my center for most of my life. During the brief click in time when I was without them I was almost lost.

What's the value of my horses?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009 do we know it's time?

Here's the latest shot of Leland. I'm pretty happy with the little punk.

I've had a few things happen in the last few months which got me thinking about putting a horse down. When do we decide it's time and what are the reasons for it?

I am worried about the horse industry in general and especially about my own personal horses.

What will happen to them if they are not in my care? How many horses ended up in a can because I failed to make them a serviceable animal? Do some of them deserve to be euthanized because I failed as a trainer?

My biggest question is, Who the hell am I to decide whether a horse deserves to live or die? Is it simply ego talking if I assume I'm the only one who can be responsible for the horses I own?

My mare Loki is an example. If Loki colicked and the only chance for her to make it was surgery,I would put her down instead. Why? Because Loki comes from a line of horses who die from colic. She is a sensitive mare and gets colicky from stress, change or a bad scare. She colicked within 24 hours of having Leeland and was in severe pain for several hours. The vet wasn't particularly worried about her but he did say she could do this every time.

She does best on a pasture with no supplements except hay. In a stall she does well with free choice grass hay and a couple of flakes of alfalfa. Again, no grain or supplements. She loses weight easily and gains it back slowly.

Loki is a talented and lovely mare. I owe her a lot. She is the kind of horse you can hop on after months off and she'll just tool around nice as can be. I take care of her as best I can and would be broken hearted if I had to face the decision to operate on her or not. Because I wouldn't. There are so many things that can go wrong with a colic surgery it would only add to her list of ailments.

Leeland was born a bilateral cryptorchid. When I was pricing out his surgery I was really horrified. I kept getting bids from $1,200 to $2,300. In my mind this was a $1,000 colt. I was really stuck behind a rock an a hard place. To my mind, he was unlike Henry, Laura Crum's horse. Henry had proven himself and was also truly needed. I wasn't sure about my little colt, no matter how much I liked him.

It made me wonder how many of these colts end up at the sales, a situation I'll do anything to avoid.

Bilateral cryptorchids develop stud mannerisms, big old stud heads and are often stunted if they aren't gelded.. So you end up with a butt ugly pain-in-the-ass. I knew that wasn't an option.

I told my boss I was considering putting him down if I didn't figure something out.

She was horrified.

"Don't you have a credit card?" She asked me.

Keep in mind this is the paint breeder who is losing her house. She also has a yearling filly who was born deformed. She's incredibly crooked. The theory is she was too big for the mare she's out of. There have been thousands dumped into this filly. She will never be rideable. She is already showing signs of arthritis.

"I'm dragging myself out of a mountain of debt," I told her, "I don't use my credit card for anything any more. I have to figure out how I'm going to live when I'm old. I've made a few rules and I stick to them. One is no elective surgery on my horses unless I have the money in the bank. I don't."

I did work it out. I found out Leland was sterile so I could leave him on the pasture. I left him intact (or is that sucked up?) until he was two. I saved enough money to get him done after I found a vet that would do it for under $1,000. I made sure I could afford half again that much in case something went wrong. I also found help through a rescue (front range equine rescue) who reimbursed me 30% of my vet bill. They would have given me 50% back if I decided to euthanize him. They're great.

He's much happier now and so am I.

By facing the fact that I would put him down before I ran him through a sale I was able to get things in perspective. It also mobilized me so I found a way to get him done.

I feel I was being responsible for my horse.

When I moved from my last job as a trainer I decided to put my beloved 32-year-old Annie down. She was blind. She was arthritic. Was she reasonably happy? I think so.

But now I had to move her. She would have to get oriented again. She had to live through the fire of being established in a new herd. She had never tolerated being kept in a stall or run, I wasn't going to do that to her.

I feel I was responsible for my horse.

Then there are the horses I couldn't ride. If you read the Captain story you know how I felt about him. I knew I could ride him, but he kept hurting everybody else. I felt he was a danger to himself and others. I felt he should have been put down. His owner told me she regretted not having him destroyed.

BUT... She gave him to a John Lyons trainer. The John Lyons trainer learned the hard way how weird he was. She was afraid of him for quite awhile. But she couldn't leave it. She kept working with him. She rides him all of the time now. I hear he's becoming quite the dressage horse. She's planning on keeping him, because she would never unleash him on someone else, but she likes him.

So who am I to decide that I'm the only one who can ride a tough horse?

I started a big, fat, Hancock-bred, blue roan mare. She bucked so hard, neither I, my young and bouncable assistant or the local buckaroo could stay on her. I turned her back to the owner with some dire warnings and she took her out to a guy who trains out of T-Cross ranch. She threw him often, tore down a solid timber round pen and broke his arm. But after 7 months he got her done. I hear she still bucks some, but the gal loves her and still has her.

Who am I to say if I can't ride them, they can't be rode?

So I'm slowly changing a lot of my previous lines of thought.

I still believe if I breed it I'm responsible for it. It's what I consider responsible that is changing.

I think all my horses need to have a solid base on them, not just tricks for the show pen. They need to be kind. They need to be willing. They need to be patient.

I have to keep my own situation healthy, physically and financially, so I can take care of my horses the way they need to be cared for.

I also need to get back to work. Later.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Mouthy Mondays

Good morning boys and girls..
Ignore me, I had a crazy week-end. Colics, county fairs, couple of good rides....action packed to say the least. The colic is over, we're all good there.

On to Mouthy Monday

FD wrote this one, it's a great discussion piece I think. She doesn't have a blog (yet) but writes so well I think we should start hounding her. Hee Hee.

The One That Got Away. (Metaphorically speaking.)

Do we all have horses that we look back on and wish we could have a do over? Mugs has mentioned it in passing, and god, I know I certainly do. I look back at the patient horses I rode in my teens and cringe, because I’d been taught to fiddle, (it took a dislocated shoulder to break me of the habit) but there’s one horse in particular from about ten years ago that really haunts me.

Bob was a lop-eared, woolly-dread locked chestnut with no shoes, a fat belly and a surprising amount of feather. I don’t think he’d ever seen a dressage arena and he certainly wasn’t ready to compete. We reckoned the dealer he was bought from had seen his (novice) owner coming. He was, according to his papers, genuinely a TB. But he was of a peculiar type of TB – the bog-Irish type, and incredibly ignorant with it. He went upside down, he was dead to the leg, no mouth to speak of, and he had a bone-jarring trot and proper leg-flailing-wall-of-death canter. He wasn’t the most prepossessing event prospect.

On the other hand, he was sound, clean legged, quiet to handle, with a nice pop in him and seemed pretty much bombproof.

Streams? Okay.
Umbrellas? Whatever.
Braying donkeys? No problem.
Double-decker lorries full of sheep? Pfft.
Clippers? He wanted to know if they were edible.

He endeared himself to me forever when he’d only been at the yard three days by standing fast in the face of a couple of dozen 6ft by 6ft square sheets of polystyrene packaging sailing over the hedge at the bottom of the field and flying towards us. I braced the lead rope across his chest, and used him as leverage in order to (successfully) hang onto the other horse I was leading.

So, as far as I was concerned, he was off to a good start. The days turned into weeks and then months. Bob changed shape, his coat gleamed, his (horrible) feet grew out, and his way of going improved immensely; he learned to canter circles, and what a lateral aid was. He retained his goofy quality to handle on the ground and adored being groomed and fussed over.

There was just one fly in the ointment: sometimes for no discernible reason, he’d throw a wobbly. Now, don’t get me wrong, he was never going to win any rodeo awards, we’re talking buck, prop, spin, bolt the length of the arena before stopping and looking foolish territory. But it was disconcerting, in an otherwise dead quiet horse and rather frightened his owner. After one of the girls nearly fell under a HGV, we put him in a market harborough to hack out; if you were quick enough and strong enough you could boot him forward and haul his nose back in when he began to whirl. As a temporary solution this worked, but you can’t ride a test in one. I thought at first it was spooking or a confidence issue, and then I wondered if he was testing us, but it didn’t seem to make a difference how may times you corrected him or how forcibly.
It would come out of the blue, in no particular area and without prior tensing. We couldn’t find a pattern: not weather, not the tack, not the skill level of the rider, not particular movements. We looked at whether it was coming, going, being alone in the arena, being in company, in the lead, middle or rear. We even tried blinkers at one point. Being fresh or tired made no difference. Sometimes he wouldn’t put a foot wrong for weeks and then suddenly, I’d have to kibosh thirty or forty attempts in under an hour, and he’d still be trying it even when he was foamy with sweat. Other times, he’d do it once, then not at all for the rest of the ride.

And yes, we had him checked by a vet. And the dentist. And we checked for nutritional issues. And he was seen by a physiotherapist, and a chiropractor and the saddle fitter and we had his feet xrayed. (Two different chiropractors in fact. Also the black box man, the magnet pusher, the horse psychic and the crystal-healing lady. But those are stories for another day.)

He improved on the flat and over fences to the point where he could credibly do a Novice event, and started going out and about. He did OK, but with this quirk he had, he was not quite what you’d call reliable. One particular event, his owner came home in tears. He’d done a workmanlike dressage test, and a lovely clear cross-country. Unfortunately, he’d thrown two wobblies in the SJ arena and dumped her warming up.

She decided to sell him, and I can’t say she made the wrong decision, although I was frustrated. He’d been with us the better part of two years, and capable though he was, he wasn’t consistent, and that’s what she needed – she’d come off a few times and he was beginning to affect her nerve.

He went to a professional re-seller, who was definitely cautioned (I know, because I warned him myself) and was sold once, that I know of, to a semi-pro, who sent him on after a couple of weeks. The next I heard of him was some months later and rather sad news – he’d put a dealer in hospital with a broken back. Apparently he’d been taken out cross-country to be shown off for someone, and something had gone horribly wrong. I don’t know where Bob went after that, but I doubt it was anywhere good. I didn’t tell his ex-owner, who went on to have a hell of a lot of fun with a sweet Welsh/TB cross.

So what went wrong? I don’t know and that’s why he’s stayed with me – out of all the horses I’ve handled, I think he’s probably the biggest failure, and certainly one of the end results I’ve regretted most. And the bugger of it is, even now, I don’t know what I’d do differently.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

All Roads Lead to Stephenville/ Sonita

Brum, brum, brum brum. My big diesel roared along the two-lane highway. I had my best friend in the front seat, our two girls and my dog in the back, a trailer full of horses and The Texas Playboys cranked up on the C.D. player.

I can't think of a time I'm happier than on a road trip to a horse show. I love the excitement of being on the road, the anticipation of meeting and riding with friends I only see at the shows. I know my clothes, my tack, my horse and my kid are clean, there's an uncracked jug of Margaritas in the cooler and there's always the hope of that first big win dangling in front of you.

We were on the way to Stephenville, Texas and the National Reined Cowhorse World Show. The girls chattered and fought in the back. When my little dog Dinah got sick of them she would hop up front and perch on Kathy's knee.

For much of the thirteen hour drive we were on back country roads. The flat brown countryside was spotted with dirty snow and intensified the giant winter sky.

We traveled through tiny towns and would stop when we found a promising diner with a field close by so we could let the horses out for a drink and a stretch and then do the same for the girls.

For the most part all three mares were quiet and steady. Sonita had only a little nervous sweat under her blanket and even drank a little from her yellow bucket.

I felt calm and relaxed. I didn't have a shot in hell of placing, which took a little of the stress off. This was my last show with Sonita, we were going out with a bang. All I wanted was to have a clean run for our last hurrah. I was a happy little Buddha.

I knew my mare well enough to understand I had no guarantees. Sonita was who she was, if we had a good ride it would be great, if we didn't it would be OK. After this show she was going home to her new owner. I had no intention of not enjoying her for who she was.

When we pulled into Stephenville the girls were out cold, a tangled mess of arms and legs, their soft snores filled the cab of the Ford and strands of their long hair stuck in the corners of their mouths. Little Dinah Dog was curled in the middle of the heap, her bat ears were tuned to us and her eyes grew bright as we turned into the show grounds. She knew we were almost there.

I parked in front of the barns and whacked on the bottoms of the girls feet. They groaned and whined as they felt around for their boots. Kathy and I jumped out of the truck and were slapped in the face with the cold wet washcloth that passed for air in Stephenville. We dug around until we found our books and headed off to the show office, Dinah tucked in at my heel.

The girls stumbled out into the cold night, yanking their jackets on and making faces at us as they went to unload. The mares stomped and whinnied. Horses in the barn called back to them, eager to assure and be assured.

The smell of burnt coffee greeted us, blinking and squinting at the bright lights, as we stepped into the office. A young woman, with a tired slump to her shoulders, stood behind the counter, patiently explaining the stall designation to a tall man in a cowboy hat. She straightened and smiled at us over his shoulder.

"C'mon in, I'll be with you in a minute," she said.

"You've got a late night going," I replied, the clock told me it was a little before one in the morning. How our thirteen hours had turned into fifteen was a mystery.

Kathy stepped up to the desk and grabbed the phone book. She wanted to call the motel we were staying in and assure them we were coming. She kept her voice low, but I could tell by the sound of her voice she was apologising for the late hour. She turned and grimaced at me. She had obviously awakened the owner of the motel. Our finances didn't allow us to stay somewhere that could afford a night clerk.

I leaned against the wall. We were here. Pretty soon our horses would be bedded in their stalls, a clean, warm blanket on them, their water buckets full and a good feed in front of them. We would head to the motel, the girls would tumble into bed and Kathy and I would crack open the margaritas. I still felt calm and happy. I was going to enjoy every minute of this show. Who knew when I'd have a horse who could get me here again.

The tall cowboy gathered up his paperwork and turned to walk out the door. I looked up into the craggy face of a man I had only seen on the cover of magazines. Todd Crawford tipped his hat and walked out the door. The winter air came rushing in as he left. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. I might have passed it off as the cold, but cold couldn't explain the sudden twist in my stomach. This was the big time. My happy little Buddha disappeared with a whimper. I was terrified. We were at the World Show.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Gates and Gaits, Forward Ho!

Shannon wrote in again, she's written a lighter story this time and it's great fun. She still hasn't coughed up her blog address. I know it, but if you don't send it with your post I'm not putting it up, I don't know if you want it published or not. Let me know!

Most Embarrassing Moment….. Lately

Three years ago my mare, Sera, was thinking she didn’t want to work for a living. When I rode her, she’d run through her shoulder, go backwards instead of forwards and she would rear. She was six at the time and a race track reject. And I was teaching my very first project her new job as a riding horse.

She had me scared. I'll admit it. But I am nothing if not determined! Mostly I could ride her through the bad behavior, but the rearing was freaking me out. I’d jump off when she was at her worst and lunge her. If you can’t be good, you will work my dear. You will go forward and you will work. Hard. And work she did!

Around the time I finally had her convinced to move forward vs. sucking back and going up, I noticed an ad for a “De-Spooking Clinic”. It sounded interesting and maybe it would help me with my courage which was sometimes lacking!

I called the number and talked to the barn owner who was nice as pie, but the clinic was 2.5 hours away. Hmmmm. I wasn’t sure I wanted to drive that far by myself. What if something happened like a flat tire or my truck broke down or there was an accident?? I told the nice woman I’d have to think on it and get back to her.

I can really get myself in a twirl over the “what if’s”. I know it’s a bad habit. I told that voice in my brain to shut up and decided I would go. The woman at the barn gave me the name and number of another person I could meet up with along the way to tailgate with over to the clinic. That made me feel better, at least if something happened on the Interstate, I wouldn’t be totally alone.

Of course Sera and I arrived safe and sound. The barn hosting the clinic was immaculate. There was an ornate, iron, automatic gate that slowly opened when the sensors detected a vehicle. It closed automatically once the vehicle was through. “Wow – that’s fancy.” I thought. I parked my truck and trailer, unloaded my mare, groomed her and walked to the indoor arena.

The first half of the day was ground work with nothing but a halter and lead rope. There were tarps set up and bridges and pots of big bushy plants… things to startle or spook the horses.

We spent the morning in groups at each “station”. Each horse and handler team worked to get their horses over, on or up to whatever scary thing was there. It was fun and watching all the different horse and handler teams was interesting. There was every size and shape of person, horse and pony.

We broke for lunch and we were supposed to meet back up in the indoor fully tacked up and ready to ride in an hour.

When I returned to the indoor with Sera and climbed up on her, she was an instant live wire. She was snorting, tense, running through her shoulder and threatening to rear. I simply breathed, in and out, deep breaths and kept her moving forward. She seemed to be the only horse exhibiting nervous energy and a lot of people were staring at me. I tried to block them out as I moved Sera forward.

She calmed down eventually… well “sort of”. As long as I let her keep moving, she was o.k. While the clinicians talked to everyone about what they would be doing, we were supposed to be on our mounts standing still. Not Sera. Well, not unless they wanted to witness WWIII. I kept her going in small circles both directions, out of everyone’s way. We'd stop occasionally but it wasn't for long.

The clinician wanted me to back her until she’d submit to standing still.

I don’t always stand up for myself very well, but there was no way in hell I was going to go backwards on Sera after I’d spent all winter getting her FORWARD. I politely told them, No thank-you and continued with my mare going forward in little circles.

Sera relaxed as the afternoon wore on and our group finished up with some outdoor riding exercises. Sera was glad to be outside and moving forward. I felt exhausted from a day of trailering, ground work, riding and a lot of different concepts.

I led Sera back to my trailer, untacked her, groomed her and loaded her up. The people I’d followed down were ready to leave and I followed them down the drive. They drove through the fancy, ornate, iron, automatic gate.

I started to drive through the fancy, ornate, iron, automatic gate. I was moving slowly forward, inch by inch. I looked up for a moment, distracted by someone waving goodbye to me.


Oh crap.

I looked in my mirrors and the hub of my trailer was impaled on the fancy iron gate. Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap. My armpits began sweating profusely. The rig I was following home didn’t see what happened and continued on….

Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap… I didn’t pay close attention to how exactly we got here since I followed them. I’m never going to find my way out of here! Crap, crap, crap…. Beads of sweat appear on my forehead.

I tried to go backwards.


Nope. I can’t. My trailer hub has become one with the fancy automatic gate and I’ve completely trashed the first tire.

Everyone in the outdoor arena going through their paces stopped to watch me.

Crap, crap, crap. I want the Earth to open and swallow me whole.

I get out and I smile through clenched teeth while I give a small wave to the onlookers. “Yup – s’all good here. Nothing to look at, I’m fine. See how nonchalant I’m acting? Oh, it’s just a little scratch. Go back to riding – stop looking now. I’ll be on my way in just a moment…”

I look and there is NO WAY I can go forward or backward. A crowd of children has gathered around. Where in the heck did all these kids come from anyway?!

One little boy goes running back to the barn, “Hey you guys! Com're! Lookit this lady who ran into the gate! C’mon! Hurry!”

Please God, can you strike me down dead right now? Please? Pretty please with sugar on top?

The owner of the barn comes out. She is still so nice it’s almost painful. She gets her husband. There is a small crowd surrounding my trailer. Everyone is evaluating the situation.

No one can leave the clinic because I’m blocking the driveway and gate. There are a couple trailers in line to leave. No one can come into the barn for the same reason. There is a boarder in her car waiting to get in on the other side.

My shirt is soaked with nervous, anxious sweat. The pits are wet, the back of my shirt is wet, I have boob sweat and I have sweat running down my face. I want to die from the embarrassment.

The owner’s husband tried a crowbar. No dice. He tried a hammer. Nope. He tried every tool he had without success. My wheel well was melded to the gate. How that happened while I drove 5-10mph I will never know.

His gate was most definitely broken - adding insult to injury. I gave him my information for insurance purposes.

We got my tire changed while people were trying to figure out how to release my trailer from the gate. The people I was going to follow home? The blessed angels realized I wasn’t behind them and they came back for me. I wanted to cover these complete strangers with kisses I was so, so, incredibly grateful.

The barn owner’s husband ended up going back to the barn and bringing back his CHAINSAW to cut the wheel well free from that fancy, ornate, automatic, expensive…. now broken… gate.

And the same little boy who went running off to gather his friends to watch? He looked at the chainsaw, he watched them cut the wheel well away and he looked at my trailer containing Sera who remained totally silent throughout the ordeal.

“Boy. That’s a good horse in there!”

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Thinking our Situations Through

I'm worried about Horsenoob and her bucking trail horse. Once again, looking at the big picture, I see a horse who has succeeded in getting to go home every time he bucks off his owner. Now there is an issue. The horse decided it works so well he is
refusing to go to the arena.

I think Horsenoob needs some serious work with her trainer. She needs to be riding through her issues with the trainer there to help. If the trainer is the only one who can ride the horse it isn't trained. Good luck with this one and keep us posted, OK?

When Sarah asked about her pleasure horse who worries when he gets off the rail I had to think a bit. Pleasure horses are trained to feel safest at the rail. So your horse needs to learn he can be safe in other places. I have had pleasure horses in training with me who I was supposed to "reprogram."
I just rode them. I ignored their worries, let them rest in the middle of the arena instead of on the rail and rode pretty randomly.
If the horse gets behind the bit I go back to a ring snaffle and ride two handed. When they get behind the bit I turn them, then send them forward with both legs.. We go here and there and I turn every time I need contact. I don't worry about leads, head sets, nothing but going and turning.The horse begins to realise the head ducking is simply a turn cue as far as I'm concerned and they knock it off.
It's fun to ride like a doofus once in a while and even more fun if you end up teaching your horse something.

I have gotten some really interesting comments from yesterday's post. I'm seeing a universal theme here. I keep getting questions about specific situations. What if the trails are too narrow, the trees are too thick, there's barbwire on one side and trees on the other (I hate when that one happens), the mud is too deep, the stupid horse can't seem to remember his herd mates are right over there and so on.

We're setting up walls here. Giant, 8 foot thick, concrete walls. These walls stop us from seeing the real issue. The horse isn't following his nose.

I'm going to say it again, hell, lets all say it together, the horse isn't following his nose.

If my horse will follow her nose I am going to get through the bad spots, every time. But there has to be a clear communication between me and my horse. When my hand points in the direction I want, my horse's job is to follow my hand immediately with her nose. Then her legs immediately follow the nose.

If you have been reading me for awhile you have heard this before and if not, well here we go. From day one my horse learns to follow my hand. When I start my groundwork I use my body language to help the horse to understand what I want.
I step in front to stop her and point in the direction I want her to go.
I step to the hip to send her out and point where I want her to go.
It's kind of like an invisible lead rope.
It doesn't take long before I switch and use my hand first and then finish the task with body language. Most of the time the horse reacts to my hand signal right away. All of them do eventually.
Then I'm able to stand in the middle of my arena and not work so hard, which is always my goal.
I use the same direction whether I'm longing them with a line or free in the pen.
It's not complicated. I just point where I want my horse to go, then I make it happen.

Once I start riding the horse, I ride two-handed and make sure my cues stay quiet and clear. I bring my guiding hand out, the horse can see it before I make contact and pull.
Pretty soon said horse is turning the direction my hand points.

So my horses learn from the get go to follow my hand. By the time we're in a full bridle they can feel my hand move and off they go.

The key is to be consistent. This might make it a little clearer why I don't use a one rein stop. I want the feet to be working to get under my hand immediately.

When Kinsey talks about ground driving your horse I think he's after the same thing. Teach your horse to follow his nose. He is not suggesting you get off every time you have a problem and drive your horse around. He is saying work your horse at home, teach him what you expect and then, in increments, work towards your goal.

John Lyons said once, "If you can't do it in the arena you have no business going out on the trail."
This has stuck with me throughout my whole training career. He doesn't mean you have to set up a narrow trail or a bog to cross in your arena. Those would be walls. He means have your horse trained well enough to listen to you, then go tackle those walls.

I'll give you a few examples. The first one might as well be Loki. I told you yesterday how freaked she was. I told you how I felt like I was riding a powder keg. But she didn't do anything.
She stretched way out at one point, like a dog trying to get you to play, I was sure I was dead meat. But she straightened back up and we went on our way.

I was extremely clear in my communication. The only time I got my legs into her was when she didn't want to go where I told her. I breathed deep and stayed loose when she was going quiet. The key to what saved my bacon was Loki knows to follow her nose. She has been expected to do this in every interaction she has ever had with people. So she did. She's a good girl.

If I had been driving her I could have worked her through the problems she was having and probably gotten her feeling better sooner. Driving a horse is all about following his nose after all.

My other example is my gelding Pete. We had a bit of a smack-down last week. I got him out to be a buddy horse for my BO's new horse. He had legitimate reasons to be grumpy. I pulled him off his dinner. He didn't have hind shoes and was getting pretty foot-sore. Did I mention I yanked him off his dinner?

I didn't know he was foot-sore yet. I didn't care about his dinner. So I saddled him up and we headed down the road.

We got about 50 yards out and I turned around to talk to the BO. Pete did a lovely roll back (ahem) and started walking back to the barn. I turned him back around and booted him into a trot. He shook his head at me, roll-backed again and started home.

I'm going to be the first to admit, the head shake should have told me he was sore, but he pissed me off.

I started to work him a bit, nothing crazy, just some leg yields, and Pete kept swatting his tail and threatening to send me to the moon.

Again, in retrospect, he was trying to tell me his feet hurt and I needed to hoist my big self off him, but I was mad. He was being a total jackass.

After about 10 minutes of this I stepped down and knocked him around pretty good. I mean jerked him around and slapped him with my eight foot reins.

This is not training method I recommend, by the way, but I am not always the professional I would like to be.

The BO was sitting there staring at me, pretty horrified, I think. Oh well.

Pete gave it up, dropped his head and relaxed. I got back on and we went on a very short trail ride. Because he started to behave, I started to pay attention to him and figured out he was sore. So we did a short loop and went back.

If Pete had been trained to drive I might have gotten down and driven him, instead of whacking on him. I would have seen he was sore right away.

This is why I think Kinsey has some interesting points to ponder.

That being said, we need to talk about small victories. When I started Pete on trails he was a total arena baby. He had been hauled over a mountain or two, but since he was in a horse trailer it didn't make much of an impression.

When I first started taking him out alone I simply rode him to the top of the first hill out of sight of our barn. He was nervous and fussy, but he went. As soon as we got to the top of the hill we rested a minute, he got to look around a little and we went back. I always dismount, loosen his cinch and lead him the last 100 yards or so before we get to the barn, at least at first.

As soon as we started getting to the top of the hill without any nerves we went on to the next hill. Then the next. In the mean time I was going out on rides with my daughter and some of the boarders. He crossed some scary dark mud with the group. He followed his nose like a good boy and he jumped the whole thing. I didn't worry about it. The next time he was better, and the next, and now he tromps through mud nicely. He's still cautious and puts his head down to sniff, but he goes.

If he had been more traumatised I would have taken even tinier steps, but I didn't need to. If I had a horse that drives I could start out with walks around the barn. I might like it. I would probably enjoy the safety of it. It would be good practice to get the feel of driving my horse.

The biggest point I'm trying to make here is you can't get too specific about the problems that arise. The horse has to trust you to get him through the scary things in life. Then you will be able to get him there.

Backcountry Basics has a ton of good information in it, no matter how you choose to use it.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

You Can Always Learn Something

When I was a young, horse-crazy girl, Mark Reynor and Western Horseman Magazine were the ultimate horse resources.

Mark was the consummate horseman, craggy, wise and just stern enough to create an almost John Wayne-like aura. He rode his wildly spotted Appaloosa gelding, Britches, with an ease that took my breath away. Mark helped shape my young attitude as a horseman by always considering the safety of the young riders in his charge first and his horse second (or it could be the other way around).

Each month,I eagerly poured over a borrowed copy of Western Horseman. The cowboy magazine was published in my own city of Colorado Springs and taught me everything, from home-made hoof dressing to how to tie a rope halter. To me every word was gospel.

I drooled over the photos of the beautiful "bull-dog" quarter horses (yeah, I'm that old), laughed at the silly cartoons and tried to ride my horse the way the "real cowboys" did.

Western Horseman and my time with Mark Reynor pretty much set the way I approached horses for the rest of my life. Horses were made to be ridden and if I was going to own one, it was my responsibility to learn how to do it right.

Mark has long been gone but Western Horseman is still going strong. I rotate my magazine subscriptions now and haven't gotten a new Western Horseman in about a year. But I always look forward to them and find myself scrounging up somebody else's copy every chance I get.

When we were talking about bolters and rearers I was doing some research to find some help beyond what I had for you.

I kept coming across the name of a book published by Western Horseman called Backcountry Basics. I hadn't read it before so I couldn't recommend it. I did think it was worth tracking down a copy and taking a looksee, so that's what I did.

I am really impressed with this book. There is a lot of solid, practical advice, all related to trail riding. South Carolina horse trainer Mike Kinsey is a no-nonsense, realistic, horseman. He approaches potentially dangerous problems with so much common sense I kept slapping myself on the forehead, thinking, Of Course!

His chapters on barn sour behavior and trail manners are priceless.

A few weeks ago I went on an extremely harrowing ride on my mare Loki. She is a Foundation bred mare who earned a NRCHA national top ten rating with my daughter and took me to a NRCHA regional championship in cowhorse. This is a pretty broke horse. She also is a horse who has been on a break for the last several years.
I have been on her maybe 4 times in the last year, all of them in the arena.
I took her out on a ride with my friend Charlotte and her good gelding Red. Loki went out of her mind. She was terrified being taken away from her herd-mates. I stayed quiet and calm and kept her nose pointed where I wanted to go. I stayed on her until I negotiated my planned ride and then dismounted and loosened her cinch, ending the ride before we got back to the herd.
I don't know if I can explain how bad that ride was. Loki was on the verge of exploding with every step. She didn't actually do anything, but it was there. She kept blocking me with her right shoulder, but for no purpose. She stayed in a walk on a loose rein, but her head was in the air, her tail clamped and I felt like I was on a powder keg.
Her feet barely touched the ground, her back was up and she was really light in the bridle. Too light. She wouldn't touch her snaffle except to shake her head and worry it.
Loki felt like a horse with no rider. Unfortunately I was up there.
So, I survived the ride, but I wasn't looking for the next one. I figured I would just keep going on these puke-inducing rides until she felt better. Ugh.
Then I read Backcountry Basics.
Kinsey came up with a perfectly simple solution. He is a big believer in ground driving. I do believe longing would also work in this situation.
He starts out leading his barn sour, or in my case buddy sour, horse until she gets upset. Then he works her. Right there. The horse isn't mindlessly sent out in circles, she is worked. Transitions, stops, starts, reverse, until she pays attention to you. Then the walk continues. He advocates tiny steps. Maybe the first day you quit when you first get her refocused. Then the next you go farther.
There is no molly-coddling going on here. The horse needs to go. Sometimes he recommends a crop. If he does he explains when and how to use it.
There is no unnecessary force either, just to the point, hard work, with the rider safely working the horse on the ground.
The irony is it's pretty much the philosophy I spout here on a regular basis. I thought, Of course! too many times to count. The great part was I was seeing the horse training truths I strongly believe in through a fresh set of eyes.
I am really impressed. I'd like to get a little Backcountry Basics talk going here. I strongly suggest this book to anybody who has to deal with spooking, refusals, water-crossings etc. He starts each chapter with a list of equipment needed to accomplish the lessons covered and the behavior you need out of your horse before you attempt them.
There's nothing better than learning something new, even at my age. It looks like The Western Horseman is still giving me food for thought and good advice.
I also picked up their newest publication Understanding Lameness. I haven't gotten to that one yet, but I'm looking forward to it.
One other thing, you don't have to be a cowboy to use this training advice, anybody with an English saddle who wants to go bushwacking can benefit from this book. Be warned though, you're going to wish you were.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Mouthy Mondays

You guys have got to check out Life at the Rough String, if you haven't already looked. She's on a mustang head count this week-end, complete with photos and a little video. It's beautiful to see. I truly felt a pang. I would kill to get to do something like that. Sigh.

Susan sent me this a while back, I have some more great stories from Shanster and some new ones have just come in. I'm posting them in the order I get them, no editing from me, so be patient, keep reading and your submission will show up.

I don't know about you guys, but I love these stories. It gives me a little insight into the people who read my blog. So far everybody seems like someone it would be a blast to sit around and drink coffee with. Or tea. Or Margaritas. So here's Susan,

Anyway How did I get Started in Horses?

I can blame my British Grandparents. When I was 5 years old, we went on a trip to visit my Grandparents in Britain. They took us to the dells for a picnic, where the ponies run semi-wild. I was immediately drawn to the ponies, and they to me.

My parents later told me the ponies followed me around like a magnet, much to all the grownups dismay. Somewhere there is a photo of me on the misty dells, in my print dress and sweater, with the ponies behind me as they were wary of the person with the camera.

When we got home, all I could talk about was horses, and my mother being British, of course bought me Black Beauty to read. (yes, I was reading books like that at 5, although it was a big type version, with drawings at each chapter heading) I loved it!

Not long after I finished the book the rancher (cattle) who owned the land behind our neighborhood turned out a group of horses in the weed filled lot by the hwy. He fed them corn stalks, and little else.

There was one old chestnut who had hooves grown out in slippers, was ribby and covered with sores, whom I immediately dubbed Ginger. The others were also named from the book, but I felt esp. sad for Ginger, and she was the lowest on the totem pole in the pasture, and was covered in bites and kicks. They pushed at the fence all the way around the field, trying for the scraps of grass they could reach.

When I realized they were hungry, I spent hours each day with my wagon and pulling long grass to feed the horses. The horses soon learned to wait at our section of the fence for their daily ration of grass. They would whicker when they saw me and my wagon full of grass. I spent hours doing this each day.

Most of the horses would leave as soon as the grass was gone, but a few stayed for petting and scratching, they craved the attention as much as the grass. Ginger esp would stand with her eyes closed while I petted her for as long as I would stay. For most of a summer, those horses were the center of my world.

All too soon, we moved (my dad was in the military), and I never had horses that close again until I was old enough to buy my own. My friend next door wrote me a month later, saying the horses were still waiting at the fence for me. Then another letter later saying they were all gone, and the field empty.

Looking back on this now, with the knowledge of an adult, I know those horses were destined for slaughter (back then, horse meat was the main ingredient for pet food). While I am glad I was able to give them a bit of love and attention before they took that last trip, even now, 40+ years later, I am in tears thinking of those horses patiently and faithfully waiting, day after day for their friend to come back. Hopefully looking up the street for a child and her red wagon, and a bit of love and kindness.

It's why I support rescue today. It's why I can't count the number of old ribby horses I have brought home, fed and re-homed. I have supported legislation, voiced my opinion, offered transport and homes to slaughter bound rescues. Horses have been a large part of my life for almost 30 years, all because of an old chestnut mare who loved a 5 year old child.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Mort, Summer and Sixteen

“Terrible Tyrant!” I shouted.
“Terrible Tyrant Tumba!” My friend Karen joined in at the top of her lungs.
“Terrible Tyrant Tumba trots!”
Mort lengthened his stride even further and I leaned back, arms flopping, legs swinging, barely balanced as we trotted down the narrow trail in Palmer Park.
“Terrible Tyrant Tumba trots and tramples tiny toddling tots!”
Karen and I screamed our laughter to the trees.
“Now do Bonnie!” Karen yelled.
We were playing one of our favorite games and trotting the long loop, the trail that wrapped the perimeter of the park. We had miles of rocky climbs, broad open fields and twisty trails weaving their way through the pines.
Our horses were mighty war elephants, Mort a.k.a. Tumba the Terrible and Karen’s mare Bonnie, otherwise known as Big Bertha.
The only rules were, as big an extend trot as we could get, no hands, no legs and no breaking gait. Of course we were bareback.
“Big Bonny!”
“Big Bonny Bertha Butt!”
“Big Bonny Bertha Butt’s Belly Bump Bruise!”
We called our silly poems War Chants and shouted them out in sync with the rhythm of the horses’ strong trot.
“Whoop whoop!” Karen yelled and we swept past a dude string of hot dusty riders and plodding horses.
We smiled and flashed some leg at the bored trail guide, when he winked and raised his hat we shrieked and set our bare heels into Mort and Bonny’s sides.
Our war chants forgotten we raced the rest of the way into the stables, Mort easily out-running pleasure-bred Bonny.
We sat in the shade by the arena, waiting for the horses to cool off enough to get a drink. Our dogs lay sprawled in the dust with no energy left for anything but grinning up at us like a couple of idiots.
I flipped one leg over Mort’s withers and sat on him sideways. I picked at the horse hair sweat stuck to my leg and wiped it off on my cut-offs.
“Do you think we should go?” Karen asked.
“I don’t, know. Mom says it’s weird the way the nuns ship us off to the Air Force Academy dances. It’s like they’re trying to marry us off as soon as we’re out of high school,” I answered.
“I suppose,” Karen said.
We sat in silence, pondering our eternal dateless state.
“I don’t know any other way we can meet boys,” Karen tried again.
“Our parents didn’t shove us into an all girls school so we could meet boys,” I answered.
“Since when did you care what they want?” Karen gave an exasperated shake of her head, “You’re just chicken.”
I thrummed my heels against Mort’s side and he raised his head. He stepped around a bit, threatening to go. I stroked his neck in apology and flipped my leg back over, just in case.
“I’ll just go up with Lisa if you don’t want to go.” Karen said.
She’d thrown out the glove.
“Fine, I’ll go. God I hate this.”
“Cadets aren’t so bad, I mean they have cars.”
“They don’t have horses, you mutant,” I reached over and shoved her.
We left the deep shade of the scrub oaks and walked the horse over to the water fountain in front of the restrooms.
I slid down and turned the handle on the drinking fountain.
Mort daintily slurped his fill. Bonnie came and drank deep and the dogs stood on their hind legs to lap at the overflow.
I gathered my reins and a handful of mane and got ready to vault up. As soon as I was airborne Mort ducked his head, I flew over his neck and splatted flat in the grass.
I lay on my back with the wind knocked out of me. Mort stood over me and dribbled his backwash on my head and neck. My good dog Jud snuffled my face, his deep brown eyes crinkled at the joke.
I rolled from side to side in the long wet grass, holding my sides and laughing.