Monday, September 28, 2009

Seat Savers

Somebody asked-Mugwump, will you talk about getting (and keeping) a "good seat" in your next post? I dumped off my new calmer, safer horse the other day when he spooked sideways and it was a shock. Never been dumped over something so seemingly minor. Shook my confidence and makes me want to figure out if I'm doing something wrong.-

To which I replied - I have to let you on on something. Sometimes horses just step out from under you. I don't care how quiet, reliable or trustworthy they are, I don't care if you ride like a burr in a Australian Shepherd's coat.

I have two situations which come to mind. I hope you appreciate this, because this isn't the stuff horse trainers (even retired ones) like to admit to.

I had just started teaching and training at Mark Reynor stables. I was working with a new adult student and I borrowed one of the dudes so I could have a horse to ride while I taught.

This was a quiet, reliable dude horse. I was riding next to the student, explaining a point, when the horse spooked and simply stepped out from under me. One second I was on a horse, the next, my very surprised self was sitting in the dirt.

I admit, when I get to pontificating I tend to set my reins down and illustrate my points with two hands. But c'mon. I was on a dude.

We were walking.

I got back on and continued to give my lesson (I bet she was impressed, boy howdy) but I tried to pay a little more attention to my horse.

The next time this happened I was riding a horse for a new client. He was a pretty difficult colt and this was the owners first time to see him go.

We were walking around the arena, the owners were standing in the middle and I was explaining some of the difficulties I was having and also some of his good points.

Suddenly, the colt jumped and, whack, he was going the other way and I was on the ground. This time, I was keeping an eye on him, thought I had my seat when he jumped and he still just skittered out from under me.

Once again, I'm sure I really impressed the new clients.

So, I guess my point is, sometimes it just happens.

In the mean time, I do have some seat savers, so to speak.

The first one is pretty simple. Ride your horse. If your afraid then longe him first or get somebody else on first or borrow a horse you can trust. But you have to ride to improve your seat. Muscle memory works two ways and it's hours in the saddle that creates a solid seat.

If you have had a scare, riding through it is the only way to work through all the stiffness we create when we're nervous.

Make sure your stirrups are the correct length. The older I get, the shorter I like my stirrups. If I let my legs hang relaxed off the side of my horse my stirrups bump at the top of my ankle bone.

Too long and you'll jam your feet down and stiffen your legs to stay on. Too short and you will pop up and forward. Neither is conducive to staying secure in your seat.

Make sure your saddle is the right size for you. For the most part I run into adults riding a saddle that's too small and kids riding a saddle that's too big. One size does not fit all.

Here's a good article on western saddle fit.

I'll let you English guys tell us about your own saddles.

Now for some exercises. This takes some trust. I have done these in a round pen, on a longe line with a buddy and along the rail in an arena. A round pen is the easiest.

I'm doing them now, a couple of times a month, and it's helping me keep my seat.

I do these at a standstill, a walk and a trot. I'll lope through these exercises on Pete, but not my yellow mare. She doesn't play fair.

Only do as much or as little as you are comfortable doing.

First I sit on my horse, who is standing in the middle of the pen. I sit up straight. I look straight ahead and I drop my stirrups. I put my feet back in my stirrups without looking. I make sure I don't touch my reins.

I take my feet out of my stirrups.

I put my heels up and down.

I scissor kick my legs.

I relax.

I usually work my horses pretty good first so they want to stand still.

I take my feet out of the stirrups.

I lift my legs straight out to the sides as far as I can. Be prepared for butt cramps.

I hold for a slow count of five and relax.

I try for ten reps. Did I mention the butt cramps?

I keep my feet out of the stirrups.

I hold my arms out to the sides.
Twist at the waist to the left and right.
Keep those shoulders level!!!!

I relax.

I roll my head around in a circle, left to right, right to left.

Now we're ready to walk.

I get on the rail and take my feet out of the stirrups, then in. Out then in.

I drop my reins, extend my arms and twist left and right.

I relax my arms and scissor kick for awhile.
I drop my reins and get my arms pumping like I'm running in rhythm with the gait.
Then I pump my arms like I'm pulling a train whistle.
Then I swing an imaginary lasso. All in rhythm with my horse.
Then I drop and pick up my stirrups while I do the arm stuff.
Then I scissor kick and do the arm stuff.
This stuff works great with a full Ipod.
Try to relax.Then I trot.
Then I lope.
You might as well let rip with a Ki-Yi-Yi because you will already be cracking up anybody who sees you.
It really, really helps.

Mouthy Mondays

Hey guys. I have probably 15 stories waiting to go up on Mondays. HOC was right, they read better one at a time so I don't want to double up. You are welcome to keep sending stories, I'll store them, but you can see how bad I am at keeping track of when they come in.

I store them all, I want to post them all, but I mess up the order.
So be warned, you might want to hang on to your stories for a bit, I'll tell everybody when to send more.

Also, I don't know if I already posted this one or read it and really liked it (which I do) so I think I posted it...If it's a rerun let me know, I'll put up the next one.

Now you know what I'm like on Mondays.

This story is a good one. The writer wants to stay anonymous, which I'll always honor, so it has an air of mystery......

I never do any writing but you inspired me to reminisce in an old memory and to reflect on the journey my mare and I have had. Thank you for that.

I wasn’t from a horse family, and I didn’t have much money. I don’t know if it was because of this or my embarrassment over my lack of lessons and horse lingo, but I didn't have very many riding friends either.

I bought my first horse from a barn that was a 20 minute bike ride from my parents house, they wouldn't take me to look so I had to find my own way. I was 14 and after 2 years of saving my part time job money I was the proud owner of a small, green, off the track, chestnut thoroughbred mare - at a barn primarily made up of warmbloods.

Now that I owned her, I realized I didn't have a penny to my name for tack. Luckily some of the older ladies at the barn took pity on me and leant me enough pieces to put together a saddle and bridle.

Over the next year I poured myself over books learning about the things lessons and camp never teach you, trying be a better owner and desperate to fit in. I was still pretty much ignored. I heard it all “green + green = black and blue”, you’re too tall for her, she’ll never made a nice hunter, she’s too small, but I didn’t care.

My parents never did come meet her, my high school friends weren’t interested and I was an outcast among the girls where I rode.

But onward we stumbled, learning as we went about basic care and the importance of patience. After about a year I decided I would try my hand at showing and we went to a hunter show down the road.

My mare stood out with her lumpy braids (my first time using yarn), mismatched tack (but I finally owned it), and me wearing rubber boots and a blazer from Zellers. As the trailer dropped us off I suddenly felt overwhelmed. I sat alone all day holding my mare, listening to kids snapping at their parents/coaches and trainers as their nerves started to get to them. I ate my sandwich and groomed my horse far away from the show rings, as others my age dropped their horse with their parents and went to watch the competition.

That day I learnt what "in the shoot" meant, and that you had to count your striding in between fences, and that it probably would have been nice if someone other then an irritated stranger could have held my horse for me while I took a rushed bathroom break. Our rounds weren’t amazing, we were fast, unbalanced and didn't get our leads. When we were in the line up waiting for the placings to be called, the girl next to me informed me that I was only supposed to use a white saddle pad at shows, not blue and she clearly didn’t think much of my outfit.

I tried to keep positive as I waited for the trailer to come pick us up at the end of the day, I cuddled with my little mare and quietly pulled out her braids. I rubbed her body and legs down as she quietly munched her hay.

As I waited, I started to feel self-conscious of one of the nearby coaches watching me. I knew who she was but I knew she wouldn't know me. Eventually she came over and put her hand on my horse’s side. I expected her to tell me I had put my wraps on wrong or some other correction but instead she quietly said "I knew this horse years ago and she's been waiting her whole life for someone to love her like you do, you’re doing a good job – don’t give up" and then she went back to her group of people.

Ten years later, I still remember that sentence over all of the snags me and my mare ever hit, or the negativity I received from other riders and their coaches as I bumbled around the hunter circuit.

I never got bitter, took my horse for granted or got angry at the people who offered me “pointers” at shows. I also never “traded up” to a bigger, flashier horse. My connection with riding boils down to the love I have for my horse, not the labels on my clothes, the name of my trainer or the number of ribbons hanging on my wall.

Still today, I love that now retired mare, and I think it’s appropriate to say that I had been waiting my whole life for a horse to love me like that, to take good care of me as I made mistakes and to never notice that her tack still doesn’t match.

For that I’ll be forever grateful.

OK, here's another one...I think I got it right this time. This is about a first endurance ride, I could so relate.

I must have been about 14 and my favorite riding buddy at the time was 12.

We found a flyer for an endurance ride at the local feed store. It was over the same trails we rode almost every weekend. We just knew we were going to be a shoo-in to win this ride.

We had no idea what the ride entailed or what endurance rides were all about, we just knew that our horses knew those trails and were in excellent physical shape. We were giddy and excited about our big find and made a pact not to tell the rest of our little group so we wouldn’t have so much competition.

The ride started way out on the outskirts of town instead of at the trail head. It only added a few miles onto the ride itself but since we didn’t have a horse trailer it would add a good 5 miles to our ride. But we figured that if we just rode more and more on the days leading up to the ride and really kept our horses in tip top shape we could do it.

So we planned, rode and did everything a couple of teenage girls could dream up to get in shape for the big event. We made sure our horses were shod two weeks prior, we each bought some light weight saddle bags to carry our food and drinks in and of course we talked about what to wear.

So the big day comes, we get up, are saddled and ready to go by 3:30am. The ride started at 8:00 am but we wanted to be there in time to let the horses rest for a while before we actually took off on the ride.

It was dark outside when we took off down the rode. We figured that the fastest, shortest way to get to the starting point was to go down the main drag through town. It was a large four lane boulevard, shouldn’t be too busy at 4am and after all there were plenty of stoplights.

Finally we get down to the freeway, (yes I said freeway) and we decide that the safest place to ride on a major freeway is in the median or middle. Heck is was all nice and level, with sand and gravel. The horses didn’t seem to care about the traffic and it was getting light outside. You know how when you think about how far someplace is you always think that it is less than it actually is?

Well we rode on the freeway for quite awhile when our friendly local Highway Patrol officer pulled off in front of us. He was a little more than annoyed with us. The conversation went something like this… Officer: “Girls what are you doing riding on the freeway, don’t you know it is illegal to ride horses on the freeway?”

Us: (scared half to death) “No sir, we are on our way to an endurance ride that starts at the Garden Drive exit.”

Officer: “You didn’t see the sign on the on ramp that says BICYCLIST AND EQUESTRIANS PROHIBITIED?”

Us: “No Sir, it was dark when we came on to the freeway.”

I thought his head was going to explode. We were quiet as church mice as he stood there scratching his head. I am sure he was trying to figure out how to get us off the freeway in short order. Then he says “Do you know I can site you for riding your horses on the freeway? Do your parents know you are out here?”

We both start to bawl. Site us, tell our parents, we were dead. Of course no one had bothered to ask us how we intended to get to the big ride and we definitely knew better than to volunteer that information. He finally tells for us to get to the Garden Drive exit as fast as we can and to NEVER, EVER, pull a stunt like this again. We wipe the tears away and thank him a million times over and start back out on our journey.

We had lost time and he expected us to hurry so we start long trotting to the exit. As we approach the exit we are sure we are late and that everyone has left without us.

No one was there. No horse trailers, no horses, nothing. We get our maps and entry material out and we start to look at them. Upon closer examination we realize that the ride doesn’t start here. This is the directions for people trailering into town to get to the trail head where the ride is supposed to start. DUH. We have ridden 5 miles out of our way and have to ride 5 miles back to the trail head. And in a hurry to even make it to the event on time.

Obviously, we can’t go back down the freeway.

We have to ride the back roads. We chose not to take this route because is has a long, very narrow, two lane bridge high over the river. We had crossed it before but it was not horse friendly.

A couple of months before a horse had been crossing it and had spooked, jumped over the railing and died. We vowed that we would never cross it again, but here we were, it was either the freeway or the bridge. We decided to take our chances on the bridge.

We didn’t use the pedestrian walkway and led the horses right down the middle of the road stopping morning traffic. We made it across the bridge o.k. but at the end of the bridge is one of our local police officers.

The conversation was very similar to the one we had with the Highway Patrol officer. He didn’t threaten to site us or call our parents but it was uncomfortable none the less. After a good 10 minute lecture on not riding in places that were not safe he let us go on our way.

By this time we were really late. We had another couple of miles to go before we got to the trail head. So we start long trotting to get there.

We finally arrive at the trail head and the check-in staff looked at our horses like what the hell have these two been up to? When I got the look, I knew right away they thought we were idiots.

We told our whole sordid story and they must have thought we were the stupidest kids on earth.

They checked over our horses and released us to go. By the time we got to the end of the ride, our horses were tired and sweaty and so were we.

They had traveled a good 8 to 10 miles further than any other horse there. And we still had to ride home.

The actual endurance riders pointed and whispered. People that we knew pointed and whispered. It was embarrassing. The vet checked our horses and very nicely asked us what happened.

We regaled the whole tragic story. Tears and all. He told us that even though our horses were tired and that they could use a drink, they were probably in better physical shape that most of the horses he had seen that day. I don’t know if he meant it or he just felt sorry for us. He told us to take the ride home slow and give them a good dinner and lots of fresh water and try again next year.

That was my first and last endurance ride. I have never felt like such a loser horse owner as I did that day. I never wanted to feel people looking at me or my horse that way ever again.

It was also proof positive that a horse will give you 110% of everything they have – and then some

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Why I Hate Halter/Mort

Here's my little colt, Leland. I saddled him for the first time this past weekend. Don't mock my fabric saddle. I borrowed it. It's light as a feather. I will never, ever ride in it.

Anyway, you can see how stressed he is. Not even a little.

I was saying hi to my little herd and visiting with my friend who owns the pasture when he sidled up next to me. I put an arm around his back and rubbed on him a little. He thought that was fine. So I put both arms across him and kept talking to my friend. I scratched his neck and his butt at the same time. Leland thought that was pretty cool. He air groomed a little.

"He's decided he's a gelding," I said.

"He is getting friendlier, he almost lets us pet him," she answered.

In case you are new to the blog or don't remember, this is my little colt that I'm experimenting with. I'm trying to train him in clean enough and clear enough steps that I only show him what I want once. Then he should know it.

He is about 2 1/2. I have had him since birth. He has been handled very little. He has never been fed anything by hand except wormer.

I've been loosely documenting what I've been doing with him. I can catch him, halter him, lead him. He trailers, allows other people to handle him, will pick up his feet, stands quiet for shots and worming.
Leland understands he needs to keep his shoulder clear of me and looks up politely when he sees me.

I don't think I've handled this colt more than 20 times.

So far so good.

I let him in the round pen and he sniffed the saddle and pad over. He pawed it a little, then ignored it.

I haltered him and led him next to the saddle and pad. I slung the rope over my arm and picked up the pad. I put it on his back and took it off. Then I put it on his back and slid the pad around.

Leland was interested and calm. I let the pad fall on the off-side.

He looked at the pad, then me.

I picked up the cloth saddle and put it on his back.

I ran the latigo through the cinch ring and pulled on the latigo without committing to cinching him up.

He humped his back a little.

When he relaxed I loosened the cinch, then finished looping it through and tightened it.

When I finally tighten my cinch on the first saddling I go ahead and cinch tight. I don't want a broncy colt to get scared with a saddle under his belly. I don't want to ruin a saddle either. Even if it's a cloth one.

I let Leland go and sent him around the round pen. He trotted with his tail clamped for a few goes, then relaxed. I sent him the other way and quit when he relaxed.

Then I left him in the round pen and messed with the other horses for a little.

I unsaddled him and let him go about 20 minutes later.

So now he's saddle broke.

Doing things this way has showed me some interesting results.

It has created a colt who is interested and respectful.

He just about says, "So what did you cook up for today?" when I decide to show him something.

He is incredibly calm. I can see his little baby brain work when I present a new task.

He has days, weeks, sometimes months between lessons. He hasn't forgotten one of them.

I think it has to do with the idea that each contact has meaning to him. He doesn't try to avoid me because what we do is interesting. He doesn't disrespect me because our contact has been minimal enough to not let bad habits develop from too much familiarity on either side.

My latest concern about my methodology is that so much of his training relies on muscle memory. Which is repetition.

His three-year-old year will be easy enough. He will be learning to carry me and to work a cow. Each lesson will build on the one before, so we should be good.

But what happens when I start his reined work during his 4-year-old year? Circles become perfect through repetition. Strength and calmness during each maneuver comes through repetition.

If I break each step of each maneuver down to it's smallest point, will we still progress enough to be competitive by the time he's 5?

Being able to count on a horse in the show pen depends on having trained his muscles to react automatically through muscle memory. Which comes from repetition.

Hmmmm. I'm giving myself a headache.

Why I Hate Halter

I wanted an all-around trophy so bad I thought I could die. Most of the local clubs offered a high-point trophy at the end of their monthly day shows.

Most of those trophies went to kids with two horses. It didn't mean I couldn't get it done. It just meant I had to do some figuring.

The speed events were not a problem. Not that we were consistent winners, but Mort and I had become reliably competitive.

Hot as he was, Mort wasn't particularly fast. He could place in barrels, flags and 75 up and back, but we were usually beat by at least one or two of kids with faster horses.

He shone in poles and keyhole. His lightening quick agility put him at the top of these two events pretty consistently.

But the morning events killed us. Pleasure? Ha. High headed and quick legged, we pretty much just lapped the rest of the group and were cut pretty quickly. Once in a while we would luck out and be in a class filled with even rougher stock than we were and Mort and I could place. I always entered, it was good for the both of us.

Horsemanship was a little better, but not much, I could ride, my seat was solid, but I didn't have the polish the other "morning" kids had. My weaknesses were glaringly obvious in those classes, but I watched like a hawk and copied the winners the best I could.

Reining was the best. We had that one down. Once Mort became consistent with the Monte Foreman stop, we won the reining every single time we walked in the arena. It was cool. Because we became contenders, I started to make friends with some of those dreaded morning kids. I was able to ride with them and expand my knowledge beyond what I could wrangle out of my friend Karen.

I needed another class though. That stinking Casey Heare was so good in the speed events she could take a day trophy without ever setting foot in the arena before the lunch break. If I was going to take her I needed some points from the morning.

So I decided to show in the halter classes. Even I should be able to pull off halter. All it took was a clean horse and a 4-H book, right?

I worked hard. Mort had a bad habit of moving a hind foot forward when his fronts were square and stepping forward when his hinds were square. But we practiced and practiced, I listened to the advice from the kids who knew what they were doing and got ready to give it a try.

We didn't place. I wasn't too surprised. I held my arms like I was balancing a tray of glasses, I smiled and remembered to keep my chin up.

It didn't get Mort square. He still stepped in and shoved me out of the line up with his nose. He thought halter was pretty boring. He wanted to nose the horse next to him, he wanted to snuffle the dirt. At one point he thought it might be a good time to roll. I was no fun at all.

So he sighed and cocked his hip. I sighed too.

After the class I went to talk to the judge, as was my habit after these classes, hoping for a tidbit of advice I could chew on. I was already thinking ahead to the next show.

"This isn't a halter horse," the judge told me.

"He's narrow chested and his front feet turn out."

"He's thin necked and it's set too high. You need another 50 pounds on this horse, that will hide a lot of his faults. You want your horse to look like a square."

I walked away in shock. I had no idea this class was about looks. I wouldn't have stayed out even if I had. Mort was beautiful.

I took Mort to the tie rail and tied him. I stood back and looked at him hard. My shining, race horse fit, beautiful headed boy looked different.

He was thin. He was so long legged he was a narrow, tall rectangle. Never a square. His feet turned out like a duck. Suddenly he looked shabby. My face burned in embarrassment.

Two classes later the same judge gave us a first in reining. It didn't change a thing. Suddenly the difference between my horse and the others at the show were stark, glaring and painful.

On our long ride home that evening I threw my reins out and let him trot. He stretched out and glided over the prairie. There wasn't a horse on the planet that could trot like Mort. It was miles out before I could sit back and admire the metallic glint of the setting sun against his coat.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Mouthy Mondays

I had a thought. I know, Uh-Oh, she's thinking again. I had a comment about not trusting a horse enough to lay down and fall asleep still holding the rope.

When I'm in trainer mode then I think safety, safety, safety. When I write my stories I'm telling you what I did, but not what I necessarily want to promote as intelligent behavior. Please, please understand I did a lot of really stupid things.

I used to take long rides on Mort. I would stop to take a break. I would lay back and tie one rein around my ankle. Then I would doze. Or eat my lunch, or whatever. Think about this for a minute.

I was self-taught in so many ways. I had already been a trainer for at least two years before I started getting regular help. I learned my craft in an extremely bass-ackward way.

I guess what I'm getting at is, do as I say, not as I write, OK?

Badges Blues N Jazz sent me this ages ago, another one of my record keeping errors. Sorry Blues, there's a reason I'm not a file clerk.

Summing It Up

Well, I figure its time to sum up what I have got so far in this blog. Of course I will continue with it, I just wanted to sum up the past year in one post. If that's possible.

So, I buy my "dream horse" who was a product of the breeding farm that I had yearned to buy from but couldn't afford. Bought her off her second owner for a steal.

With fresh dreams of training her from start to finish all by myself, and how wonderfully broke she was going to be and how bonded we would be.

Pick her up and shes a body score of MAYBE 2, and skittish as hell.

Do ground work, pony her, lunge her, had her side passing, moving hindquarters and forehand on the ground, hauled her out to show her cows, drove her etc etc.

A warning bell had kind of gone off in my head on how whenever she was left for a few days, it would be like starting all over again.

I chose to ignore it and proceeded to get on her and walk a few steps shortly before she turned 2. Did it a second time, 3 min TOPS.

Then, the third time, just got settled in the saddle and BAM, she exploded into a bucking bronc. Landed on my back, winded.

Was nervous of a repeat performance, so sent her to a friend to put a few rides on her. He had his wife lead him around. 1st ride, great, 2nd ride, great, 3rd ride? BAM, explosion. 1 pulled groin later, she is back at my place.

I continue to do groundwork but am too scared to ride. I would get brave enough to put a foot in the stirrup, and she would EXPLODE backwards, sometimes. Not all the time. September of her 2 year old year, I decided she was to much for me. Traded her off for something else and regretted it the moment she was gone.

Spent four sleepless months plotting on how to get her back. Finally, had to use my credit card to buy her back at a ridiculous price.

Hubby had a HUGE blow out, he hated Jazz and couldn't fathom WHY I would want her back. They said she had 2 months training. NOT. Finally got a hold of their 18 year old trainer who said she had put a MONTH on her AND got kicked in the stomach by her which made her unable to ride for 2 weeks. Hmmmmmm.

More warning bells you ask? Nope, I was just happy to have her back.Got her back on December 24th and put a ride at a walk on her on Dec 30th. Yea, she was still SUPER green. Sent her to a trainer, who rode her for 2 weeks, then did 2 weeks of groundwork.

Trainer told me I should sell before I get hurt on her. I couldn't. I was bound and determined to make the dream come true, and began my blog to keep me motivated. I put approx 2-3 months of just walking and trotting on her and started off with my fear at a 20 on a scale of 1-10 and gradually got down to a 9.

She has bucked me off twice since then, but there are also huge milestones of progress. I don't regret it for even an instant. She can be very light and responsive, as well as witchy and stubborn. She has tried EVERY trick in the book which has made me a better rider.

She turned 4 this month, and although she may not be as well trained as a lot of 4- year- olds, I am extremely proud on how far we have come together and the fact that I have been her sole rider for the last year.

Do I get frustrated? Yes! Of course. When I can go trot the barrel pattern on her one day without an issue, and the next day, a barrel on the side of the arena is a horse eating dragon. Or one day she will lope wonderfully slow collected circles with sliding stops, and the next day she will bolt and go 90mph and have no whoa.

How bout that she will go into a herd of cows with absolute passion, and LOVES to chase them, then the next week she is poking her shoulder out and trying to avoid going into the herd? Yea, I get frustrated.

It doesn't mean I will give up. She keeps me on my toes. Just when I get over confidant, she will try a new trick that brings me back to reality that she is a living, breathing, thinking, conniving creature, not a robot.

I love her individuality, and have NEVER come across a horse like her. She has taught me that it doesn't matter what people think, because riding her in a crowd, I am prepared that she may bolt or buck, and there is no way in hell I am going to look pretty riding her, so its best to give up on any sort of pretense that I may actually look like I ride good: sure enough, if I do think "hey, look how good we look" she will poke her shoulder out and bolt halfway across the arena, there is no way to recover your dignity if your hauling back on your reins and kicking like a crazed woman trying to get that shoulder back, or (God forbid) eating a mouthful of dirt, so, I have learned to accept that.

Thankfully, I have not come off her in public yet, but it is just a matter of time. I am prepared to leave my pride at home when I got to events with Jazz and to just enjoy it.I have had to revise my goals a bit. The dream of riding bareback and being "one with my horse" like Stacey Westfall is not to likely to happen with Jazz. Maybe once she is 30 years old, but not anytime in the near future. So, my goals now are to continue with her training and hopefully have her consistent.

My immediate goal is to do this season of cattle penning with her, and then start doing time only's in barrels next year.

I have purchased a yearling that I will transfer the Stacey Westfall dream to, and already I can tell he is NOT another Jazz. I don't want Jazz to every lose all of her 'tude, because its what makes her Jazz, and why I love her.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sonita/ Here We Are

Even at two in the morning the barn at a major show is always thrumming. The overhead lights stay on 24 hours a day and time becomes meaningless as the show wears on.

Horses look out into the barn aisles and whinny,to their stable mates, to the horse being led past, to their caretakers, to the huge, confusing world of eternal light.

Restless trainers check their horses and the nervous or flat out terrified ride in the half-light of the show pen.

I slipped into Sonita's stall and rubbed her hip, letting my scratching fingers search out her favorite itchy spots. She tweaked her tail in irritation and moved a step from me. She had pulled most of her feed from her feeder and stomped it into the shavings. Her head stayed buried in the corner.

My mare was sick of this place, we had been here a week, she was tired and stressed. She wanted out of the box stall, out of this noisy world that never let her relax, never let her sleep. I knew how she felt, I didn't know how many more nights I could spend in a motel room filled with the smell of dirty clothes, teenage girls, boots, dogs and assorted pieces of tack.

I leaned against her and pushed my icy hands under her blanket. I couldn't figure how it could be cold and muggy at the same time. The joy of winter in Stephenville I guess. Sonita sighed and shifted her weight from one hind foot to the other.

"Let's get out of here, you wanna?"

I grabbed Sonita's halter and tied it on. She plodded behind me, her head hanging, and lugged on the lead.

The foggy night air swirled around us as I led her out of the barns. Sonita threw her head up and drank in the clean air. Wide awake, she jigged by my side and her tail waved and snapped.

We walked back to the trailer and I dug out an extra horse blanket and my Carhart. Sonita kicked her heels in play as I lead her farther into the fields. When the darkness swallowed us and I could just make out the white of her face I stopped.

Sonita stood and looked at me for a few seconds before she dropped her head to graze. I snuggled into my Carhart and spread the horse blanket on the ground.

I lay back on the blanket and watched my mare graze. A kaleidoscope of images went through my head as I watched her. We had been through so much together. We had come so far. My squalling, nasty, bitch of a mare had gotten it together and channeled her incredible energy into where we were right now. It occurred to me I had learned to channel a few things too.

A brief ripple of fear ran through me, but the rhythmical rip and chew, rip and chew, as Sonita grazed in the dark made it easy to put tomorrow off until tomorrow.

She stepped by my blanket and snuffled my hair, making sure to leave plenty of slobber. I reached out to push her nose away and wrapped my hand around her coronet band instead. I could just feel a light pulse beating slow and steady.

I remembered to wrap the lead once around my hand before I slid into sleep. I dreamed of horses running.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Mouthy Mondays

I owe an apology to fyyahchild. She sent me this post many, many moons ago and I even remember reading it. I somehow didn't post it. Please, please, if I did this to anybody else resend your story with a reminder.

I have some kick butt news. I found a stable 2 blocks from my job. It has good sized pens and sheds, the place was clean, the water tubs full and scrubbed and the food program was great.
There is a gorgeous, huge outdoor arena, a good sized indoor and access to lots of trails. The city park has another good public arena and is across the street.

I had no idea how much I was missing a well disked professional level arena. I almost started to cry. I am not a cryer either. The BO must think I'm a bozo.

I'm glad I've been forced to ride the trails for the last year, but I also know I'm not happy unless I'm training on something. Now I'm in a position to get back to it. I think I've learned the value of hitting the trails though, trail riding will definitely stay in my program.

I move on the first. My boss is fine with me taking a long lunch, so I'll be riding every day. Yip!

So I think my life is starting to progress in a positive direction. Little by little I'm sorting this out. You guys on the blog are an incredible help.

Hear's fyyahchild -

It was late in the evening after a week of rainy weather. I was trying to get Tax to relax, relax, relax. He was hot after being stalled through the worst parts of the rain. I wanted to burn off the worst of his attitude and Tax just wanted to run and buck.

As the light began to dim I abandoned the arena and took him out to the field next to our barn to see if I could get a nice trot before we ended the day.

As we came up along the fence line for the first time the neighbor tossed a bag of empty soda cans right out their front door. Talk about timing.

Tax of course decided that was as good of an excuse as he was going to get and took off. He got a couple of strides sideways before I stopped him. Mad about stopping he shot backwards and threatened to start bucking when I pushed him forward. I gave him a big smack across the back of his neck. He finally stopped and we both sat there frustrated while he craned his neck to stare at the house and whirled his ears waiting for the roar of the horse eating soda cans once more.

I got him going around again and of course the next time we came close to the fence I could feel him starting to tense. I knew another blow up was coming, but I remembered something Mugs had discussed in a post. She talked about distracting a horse to keep their attention off the scary thing just beyond the fence. Ha ha…I was going to try an experiment.

I wrapped my hand around the saddle horn (did I mention I love my western saddle for after rainy weeks) and started shaking it, shifting my weight back and forth. Suddenly Tax’s ears flipped back around. He was trying to figure out what the heck I was doing. Maybe this would work!

The second I felt his attention start to shift away again I decided to sing. I’d been listening to Hank Williams, Jr. in the truck on the way out to the barn. So shaking and belting out Family Tradition at the top of my lungs around the turn along the fence line we went. And Tax focused on me and didn’t throw the tantrum I’d felt brewing. When he relaxed I stopped moving and rode as quiet as a mouse. His stride lengthened. His head dropped and I felt his steps lighten as his back rounded. This was what I’d been waiting for since I’d hopped in the saddle.

Pushing my luck I went around the field again. Any time I felt him tense up and get ready to spook I’d start shaking and singing as loudly as I could.

“I have loved some ladies, and I have loved Jim Beam. And they both tried to kill me in 1973.” He seemed slightly disconcerted by the singing shaking thing on his back, but it sure did get his mind off acting up. Then we’d go back to a nice, quiet working trot.

I must have gone around that field 4 times alternating between sitting quietly when Tax was good and spontaneously bursting into to shaking fits of song.

“Don’t ask me, Hank, why do you drink, and why do you roll smoke? Why must you live out them songs that you wrote?”

Then I looked up to see the neighbor standing on her porch shaking herself with a fit of laughter. I smiled my biggest smile and waved like a crazy person and slunk back to my own barn.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sonita/World Show-Here we go.

I let Sonita extend trot around the arena on a loose rein. I was so jazzed up she was incapable of standing still and I knew better than to school on any of our maneuvers.

I kept out of the way of the other riders and let myself be drawn into their warm-ups. Huge sliding stops, lightening fast spins and lead changes without a lift of the head or swing of the tail surrounded me. The other open riders had calm, almost serene looks on their faces as they rode past. The knot in my stomach turned into a fist. I was going to be massacred. Slaughtered. Sauteed and served up medium rare.

I saw the Big K waving at me from the rail. Relieved, I trotted over to him.

"What's in your head? You looked a little spooked," he said.

I recognised the gentle tone. He used it most on newbie riders and scared colts. It pissed me off.

"I'm wondering why I ever thought this was a good idea," I snapped.

"Is that why you're not loping your circles?"

"I'm riding all over the place, I keep getting in everybody's way."

"Who cares? You know better than to let them run over you. Look em' in the eye and mow 'em down. You're going to be fine."

I tried to take a deep breath but it came out more of a snivelley sigh.

"I am in way over my head," I said.

"Don't let yourself get hung on how these horses look in their warm-up, half of them will come undone in the show pen and you know it," K said, " this is just another day, you're ready and so is your horse."

He was right. I knew it. But I was falling apart.

Sonita started to paw at the fence, as usual she made a half-hearted attempt to thump the toe of K's boot resting on the rail. He stomped on the rail to let her know he was watching her, she pinned her ears and ground her teeth.

"I'd better get moving before I have to thump on her," I said.

Sonita's everyday orneriness gave me some comfort, at least she was calm enough to be a bitch.

I put my leg on Sonita and she roll-backed off the rail and melted into the river of loping horses. I picked my head up, looked straight ahead and settled into my seat. When I was crowded by another rider I looked them in the eye and held my course.

My name was called, I was in the hole. Sonita had found her rhythm and was loping strong and steady. She transitioned up and down without a fuss. I went down to the end of the arena and loped through a few run-downs, showing her the lead we'd start on and the direction of our first set of spins. We stopped a few times and relaxed at the end. We were as ready as we could be.

I went to the gate and stood off to the side. Normally I would watch my competitors, but my hand wasn't steady on the reins and my stomach was flipping. I didn't think I could bear it. Sonita's breathing was solid, a light sweat covered her neck and flanks, she was warm, but not hot.

She stood with her head up, watching the horse and rider in the arena work their cow. The cattle were big and soft. Hopefully they weren't too soft, Sonita looked her best when she got to slam things around.

She shifted back and forth, restless and wanting in the arena.

My name was called. So was Sonita's.

The gate was opened, I nodded at the gate man's "Good luck."

I squashed my hat down and pushed my glasses up.

I walked Sonita forward a few steps, just enough to let the judges see my departure and we loped off.

Sonita began to build her speed into the first run-down, she wanted to fly, but I knew our best chance at a decent stop was to keep her checked.

Her first stop was rough, she threw her head when I said , "Whoa" and I felt her off hind leg skip in the dirt.

It made her crooked when she stopped and she snapped her tail when I laid my leg on her to straighten her out as we backed.

I made myself sit and breathe for an extra count of ten before we did our quarter turn to the judges and walked out to begin our circles.

Sonita did her first set just fine, at least her feet were on the right path, but her head was up, and she was ogling the stands. I gave her a squeeze with my legs and she raised her head higher, refusing to go into the bridle.

"Dammit Sonita, not today, " I growled.

She flicked an ear at me but our first lead change was coming up and she was still strung out.

I cued her change and realised I had risen about an inch out of my seat, an old habit I fell back on when I was tense. I paid for it with a dragged lead in the back for our first stride.

I could hear the points ticking in my mind as they fell away with each new blunder.

I settled down and so did my mare for the rest of the pattern. Our second change was clean, our spins were fast and solid and her last two stops were straight.

We stood and breathed for a few seconds before calling for our cow. Sonita stared at the gate, I could feel the familiar quiver of her back through my saddle as her anticipation grew. The roller in her bit clattered as she worked it and white foam sprayed to the ground with every roll.

I pushed my feet deep into my stirrups, squashed down my hat and pushed back my glasses.

The gate opened and we trotted forward to meet our cow. The heifer was slow and a little sullen in the box work, but I got her moving with me and driving across the pen. As we set up to go through our corner I saw the cows tail kink a little. She had spotted the opening I was offering down long side of the arena.

I wondered if she was going to stay logey or if she was going to blast down the fence. She took off with her tail in the air.

It looked like we were going to have a long sweet run down the fence. I settled back and kept watching my cow.

Before we got to the middle cone the little stinker ducked and whipped back towards the gate. Sonita turned with her and leaped forward to head her off. She turned so hard and fast I almost lost my seat. I felt my stirrup go and I started to slide down her side.

All that went through my head was, "Here we go!"

Visions of me laying in the dirt at my first World Show flashed before my eyes as I grabbed for the horn and hoisted myself back into the saddle.

Sonita hesitated just long enough for me to find my stirrup and we lined out and headed back down the fence. But I had lost control of my cow.

My mind was still back on my near disaster when I felt Sonita step to the cow to make our second turn.

Frustrated and angry because we were behind she began her turn a stride too soon. The heifer ducked under her neck and shot through the corner.

I sat back, took a breath and faded off the cow to slow her down.

We were out of the running for sure now. The loss of working advantage and the points taken for running through the corner sealed the deal.

Sonita and I finished our run but never really pulled ourselves together. It was an eternity before I heard the judges whistle. I pulled Sonita up and we walked out of the arena.

I had told myself over and over again it didn't matter, I just wanted to have fun. But it did. I felt like I had let the Big K down, myself down and especially Sonita. She was so much better than what we had done out there in the arena.

I hopped down to loosen her cinch and take off her skid boots before I remounted to cool her down.
I worked hard to clear any sign of disappointment off my face. Once Sonita's breathing had eased I went to watch the rest of the runs.

The Big K came up behind us and rested his arm across the back of my saddle. He handed me a beer. Sonita made a nasty face at him and stomped a hind foot. She turned back around to watch a cow run when she realised he wasn't going to leave.

"Well, what do you think?" He asked me.

"I'm not ready to talk about it yet," I said.

"You gave us all something fun to watch," he said.

"Shut up," was all I could come up with, but I had to hide my smile.

It was pretty funny, I had almost biffed it at the NRCHA World show.

"Tomorrows another day," K said.

"I guess."

"I mean it, have you been paying attention to your class?"

"Not much."

"Well you're sitting 10th."

"No way."


"My run was a disaster, how can that be right?"

"There were some bigger disasters, that's all.

Suddenly I was a lot more interested in the last go.

We sat and watched in silence. It's considered bad form to wish a losing run on a fellow competitor. But once in a while it's OK to root for the cow.

That was a great cow.

I still held the 10th place slot after the last go.

"How about that?" The Big K grinned at me.

"Looks like you and Sonita made the finals."

Monday, September 7, 2009

Mouthy Mondays

Hey guys,

I just had an email from a regular. She sent me a story weeks ago and I seem to have lost it. If you think I forgot you or lost one of your stories, well first, I apologise and second, please resend your horse tales, I love these things and would hate to miss one because I'm a rotten "keeper of the tales."

This comes from Sandhills and Mustangs...

Humbling Moments

Woke up early this morning thinking about the people who influenced my life.

I don't particularly know why I woke up that way, but I did.

You see ever since I can remember horses have been a part of my life. I was riding a close family friend’s horse at three years of age, and started lessons a short time after that.

I remember all the people who influenced me, it started with Don, then Cliff, Shannon, Cece, Kathy, my mom, my grandfather, Amy, and of course Brenda.

But who started this whole Mustang thing, who was the one that made me fall in love with the mustangs. I’d have to say Cece was the one who introduced me to mustangs and my grandfather was the one to blame for giving me mustangs.

It’s been eight years since Legend came into my life; he was a scraggly little mustang with knobby knees and a head to big for his body. But he grew, and today he is a state champion, my leading man, the horse I couldn’t live without.

I remember the first time I rode him, the rush of adrenaline and how happy I was to finally have a horse of my own. Over the years he’d teach me a thing or two, and because of him today I have a good head on my shoulders, and I know a thing or two about breaking horses.

From the moment Legend came to the ranch there has been strong criticism of him. I was once told that he’d never make anything. I would always smile at the commentator and listen, knowing that one day I’d prove them wrong, we’d prove them wrong.

You see this is Quarter Horse Country; Mustangs aren’t as easily accepted here. It took me a long time to get accepted; in fact some days I can still feel the tension when I walk into the feed store.

I stood on the hill this evening with my hand in Legend’s mane, the other horses grazing peacefully around me, Legend watched with me the as the blue turned to pink, pink to orange, and orange to black and remembered where I had come from as he snorted and put his head down to graze.

My heart strings tugged as I remembered the ones who started my horse career, and I believe that without these humbling moments we rise to high on our pedestals and forget where we have come from, forget who we are, and forget that often times our ego can get in the way.

I wish for every horse owner in this town, in this state, in the country, to realize that in fact a horse is a horse, papered or not, it doesn’t matter who his daddy was, he’ll be what he’ll be, you can’t force the issue.

I kissed Legend goodnight, walked home and ate, the whole time remembering Don's horse, he was an Arabian, no a Quarter horse, sorrel with a big blaze, sweet as pie . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Saturday, September 5, 2009

I Just Gotta Say....

I found my comment going on and on and on.....

So now it's a post. This treat thing is enough to make me nuts. Here's really and truly my last post on treats.

I don't care if you use treats (food). It's simply that I don't. I have tried to tell you why, but all this does is bring up waves of defense from those who train with food.

I don't use food to train my horses, but to my mind they still get treats. Since when is a release, a rest or a stroke on the neck not a treat? So I guess it comes down to what I want my horse to work for.

Do I need to phrase it differently? If I use the word treat in place of rest, release, pat on the neck, will it make you guys feel better?

I don't mind if you disagree with me, but please understand I'm not going to sit back and agree with you either. There will be arguing, but not meaness, at least on my part.

Just for general info, I don't train dogs or kids with food either.

I was on a walk with my Mother and my dogs one day. Another hiker was coming towards us on the trail with a large, lunging Lab on a leash. We got off the trail and I told my dogs to sit and stay. Since my dogs were off leash and I have an opinionated Rat Terrier I was holding up one finger and keeping an eye on them. My dogs were being pretty good, but I had to keep wiggling my finger to keep the Rat's attention. The women passed us and by this time she had hoisted the Lab up and was dragging him by his collar with only his hind feet on the ground and she said, "My dog would do that for a pocket full of treats too."

I'm not 100 percent sure what she meant. Was she sneering at my dogs because they were behaving? Did she wish she had brought treats? I'll never know. I would have given her some had there been any in my pocket, but there wasn't. I gave my dogs their normal treat, a rousing "Good dogs!!!!" and a pet. Exactly how I praise my kid or my horses. Well, kinda. I guess I don't call my kid or horses, "dog"....

mlk - her example in the comments is the reason I don't want my horse to feel she can be in my space. Ever. Which includes taking food from my hand. Any horse, any time, can freak. They are huge. They can kill us. I want to think my horse has a solid muscle memory built in to stay off me at all costs. Then if or when she mentally checks out I can rely on the physical muscle response to be away from me. I am willing to wager mlk and the vet didn't get hurt because the horse was hard-wired to stay off people.

I know it works. From years of experience. I have never been smashed by one of my horses or a horses I've had for at least 30 days. I have had them panic. They have jumped, reared, bolted for different reasons. The only horses I've had knock me down, over, into fences etc. were problem horses who came in for training. All of these problems came from how they were handled.

The worst injuries I've ever sustained came from horses who's owners loved them so much they played "games" instead of taught them manners, and showered them with carrots or horse candy so they knew their horses loved them best. When discipline problems arose and the games and cookies quit working I got called in. As a matter of fact it was one of those horses who ended my training career.

I've never been hurt by an unhandled horse either, be it a mustang or a two-year-old off the range. My injuries came from horses who were handled.This is what got me going on teaching horses to honor my space at all times. Because I really started thinking about how important it is to factor in what we don't do as much as what we do when it comes to training our horses.

Positive and Negative space. How my body language tunes to my horses. How I manipulate the air between us to create the behavior I want. I want my training to become increasingly nuanced. I want to get to a response from a shift, a sigh, a turn of my hand. I can't get any of this if I have to break the moment, intrude on the space, disrupt my connection so I can dig out an apple-flavored horse cookie and goober up my bit.

I have seen great riders treat their horses with food. So I won't say it's bad. I will say, over and over it's not my approach. I guess I'm not a good enough trainer to overcome the result of hand feeding my horses.

Now I'm done with hand-feeding.

Let me give you my Pete up-date. My little bay gelding, Pete, is doing well. He has come from being unable to follow a trail without falling off the side to a reliable, steady companion in the mountains. Except last weekend when he decided to reenact a mustang stampede and threw an extremely good bucking fit as we loped up a hill. I stayed on, he had to lope up the hill a few more times and all was good.

Which is a damn good thing. Because on Wed. evening I took him out for a short trail ride on the mountain he lives on. We had a nice start, he is getting good on his feet and beginning to enjoy going exploring.

We rode up and down a narrow, winding trail and ended up on the forest service road which takes us back to the barn.

We were headed home when Pete topped short, crouched like a cutter on a heifer and spun around. Those of you who read me regularly know I keep my reins loose through a spook and wait to see what my horses feet do.

Normally, if Pete spooks hard enough to spin around the other way he will take a step or two, then turn around and look at what scared him.

This time we were at least 25 yards up the service road before I got my reins gathered and stopped him. I had forgotten just how much power is in those Smart Smoke butts.

Pete stopped. We turned and stared down the road. It wasn't dark yet, but the shadows had lengthened and deepened and color in the trees was starting to fade.

Pete is not a spooky horse.

He was frozen into the ground, his head flung up and his eyes bugging out of his head. I was pretty much doing the same thing.

We sat there for a few minutes, straining to see what was down there.

I couldn't see or hear a thing. Of course the thing in the road was between us and the barn.

Then I heard a rustling in the scrub oak in the gully to our left.

Pete didn't even flick an ear at the rustling. He kept staring down the road.

The rustling got more pronounced. I kept glancing to the left, then staring down the road.

Then the rustling became quite a bit louder and two deer popped out of the brush. Normally if I surprise deer in the mountains they at least trot off. These two walked past us. They came within 10 feet of us as they headed to their trail on the other side of the road. Their ears and eyes were pointed exactly where Pete's were. Down the road.

They didn't even glance at us. Pete didn't look at them either.

I didn't need anymore convincing.

I turned Pete around and we headed back up the road to a trail that would take us up the side of the mountain and above the road.

He walked out and kept flicking an ear behind us, but he stayed calm and on a loose rein.

We got on the trail and headed back to the barn again. Pete was quiet and level, so I began to relax. It was getting darker and the trail was getting harder to see. I kept my reins loose and shook out my legs so I could relax into my seat.
I knew Pete could see the trail just fine, so I turned the controls completely over to him.

Pete stopped again. This time he stared down the mountainside. I felt my stomach clench. I wasn't sure we could even get turned around on the trail. There was mountain going up on my left and mountain going down to my right. I followed the direction of Pete's ears and peered into the darkness. I still couldn't see or hear a thing.

Pete snorted a hard warning blast through his nose. Then he did it again.

When I was a little girl and got into a tight spot, I used to say the "Our Father" over and over again. I found my self whispering "Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit," in the same sing song rhythm of my childhood prayers. There might be something profound there, but I was too scared to think about it.

Pete decided to keep going on the trail. I just became a passenger at this point. There wasn't a single element under my control anymore. I had to trust in Pete's better sense of sight and smell and for the first time with this horse, count on the partnership I hoped we had developed.

I swear he tip-toed down that trail. He placed his feet so carefully his shod hooves didn't make a sound. There was no clink on the rocks, no crunch of gravel, nothing.

All I could hear was our breathing and the pounding of my heart. I could feel Pete's heart thudding against the calves of my legs.

We both jumped when the branch of a bush slapped against Pete's flanks as it sprung back from our passing.

About a quarter mile from home Pete sighed, dropped his head and began to speed walk along. Whatever had been out there was past us.

I swallowed a few times, my dry throat telling me I had turned into quite the mouth breather up on the trail. At least I didn't wet my pants.

We made it back to the barn without incident. One of the boarders told me the Forest Service guys had stopped by to say the bear were all over the scrub oak and they had seen a mountain lion earlier in the week.

I don't know which one it was on the road, but I do know Pete and I have gone up a step in our progress. I know when it counts, I can trust him as much as he can me.

I gave him an extra flake of hay and threw a couple pieces of the BO's horse candy in his tub.

So I guess I do give my horses treats.