Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Mort, Me and the Upper Rio Grande 50 Miler Part 1

Mort and I had struggled through a few more NATRC rides. We had even managed to place.

Those rides were such a frustration to me. My inability to pay attention to instruction or direction kept tripping us up. I would continually make mistakes which would get us nickel and dimed to death by the judges.

Our PR checks were always great. We never had a problem finishing a ride, but we had lots of trouble coming in on time. Not late mind you, early. Much too early.

Mort's travelling trot averaged 17-20 mph. I don't know how this speed stacks up against the endurance elite, but for a quarter horse it was really, really fast. His heart rate was so low and steady he was often checked and rechecked at the required rest stops. We almost always came in just a few points above normal and were back to his low, steady rhythms within five minutes.

So, as was the story of my life, and still is today, my horse was fine. I was the one who kept screwing up our success.

I couldn't keep track of our time and I continually messed up the math of MPH and how many stops we would make within the designated miles. My buckets were always hung in the wrong spot and Mort could untie a safety knot in 2 seconds flat. The judges frowned upon my horse cruising the camp at night and turning as many other horses as possible to come party with him. My surly teen-age attitude didn't help much either.

I was at one of our riding clubs first-of-the-year Sunday shows and visiting with Cindy, one of the adult club members.

She kept looking over Mort with a slightly critical eye and I was gearing up for another "your horse is too thin" lectures. She said, "Have you ever been in an endurance race?"

"I've been on some NATRC rides," I told her.

"I'm talking about a race," Cindy said, "a fifty miler."

"No, I haven't." I could feel my excitement start to rise, but squelched it down hard, I'd been fooled about this endurance thing before.

"You race 50 miles in one day," Cindy continued. "There are regular vet checks and they'll pull your horse if you push too hard, but it's a race. Your horse looks like he's in great condition."

"We could race 50 miles," I told her. "I've already rode him 70 miles in one day and that was just because we were lost."

Cindy gave me a funny look. I couldn't read her, but she kept talking, so I hadn't run her off.

"I'd like to have a riding partner for a race coming up in July. Do you want to come?" she asked me.

"I'll have to ask my parents," I told her, "but I bet I can." My mind was racing as fast as my horse was going to on the 50 miler.

Permission granted, I started to get Mort ready to go. We only had 6 weeks to get ready, but I knew he was already in pretty good shape. We embarked on a conditioning program I made up myself. Part what I had managed to learn on the NATRC rides, part Bonanza, part Walter Farley.

I was up before dawn to take him to "the ditch," a 1/2 mile length of flood control canal with a deep sand base. We ran 2 miles at whatever speed Mort chose. If you asked me what we were doing I'd have told you we were "breezing."

For the last few weeks of school I was on him for a fast trot through Palmer Park as soon as I could get to the barn. On week ends we headed out to the reservoirs or back into the park for as many hours as I could wrangle from home.

We were bareback for most of these rides, it took too much time to get my saddle out to the barn. I figured it would make me tougher. We went cross country often, smashing through scrub oak, climbing shale covered hills, winding our way into deep ravines with no trails to guide us.

Mort loved it. He was in his element when we were on the trail. He would head out in his big strided trot and hold it for as long as I asked him too. He was bold and eager while we were out, willing to jump a log or scramble across soft red rock faces without hesitation. I trusted his judgement so completely I never made him go over an area he refused to cross. I assumed (and to this day I think it's how I managed to not kill me or my horse) he knew better than I did where we could safely go.

I let go of all my thoughts of training and just rode. Often in shorts and a T-shirt, rarely in shoes, I shook loose of the constraints I had put on Mort and myself over the past few years and reveled in the joy of my horse.

We became lean as a pair of gray hounds and I had a hard time getting Mort to break into more than a light sweat no matter how much ground we covered or how many hills we tackled.

Cindy sent me entry forms, releases and suggestions on what to wear and what to bring on the ride.

Finally, finally, the week of our ride arrived.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mouthy Mondays

This is a story we all need to hear. And dreammaker? you rock.



This has been a post I've been working on in bits for several months now. I hope this helps anyone else out there that may be going through the same thing.

I ended up in the hospital twice in 2009 as a result of injuries from Diego. Thankfully, while both my injuries (kicked in the face while leading him, and a broken arm as a result of being bucked off) required a trip to the hospital, and a lot of time and rehab, neither one was overly serious or required an overnight stay. However, the bruises and scars I was left with externally, were nothing compared to the rehab and time I would need mentally in order to be able to once again enjoy the love of my life, riding horses.

I went from being a cautious, but not truly fearful rider, to REALLY having to face with and deal with my fear. My past experiences with horses were not without incident. I have come off more times than I can remember, but chalked that up to just being "a part of riding." I do still believe in that sentiment. When riding horses, you ARE going to come off at some point. You may go years and years without issue, you may have a very minor incident that results in no injuries, but you cannot delude yourself into thinking that it will never happen. It's never a matter of "if", but "when". I've had times where I literally landed on my feet, and have also had a few injuries, from bumps and bruises to a fracture here or there that didn't require any sort of medical treatment (i.e. cracked tailbone). In the past, although perhaps a bit anxious, I've always been able to get right back on, or very shortly thereafter, with no lingering effects other than perhaps a bit of nervousness for the first few minutes or while the horse was acting up. However, things were much, much different for me now.

At first, I found I had little desire to get back on a horse, any horse. However, riding is such a huge part of my life, such a huge part of what defines me, that those sentiments did not last for long. I knew that eventually, I would be back in the saddle again. I was able to use my broken arm as an excuse, both to myself and to others, for several months. I truly didn't want to risk riding again while my range of motion and strength in that limb were still so limited. I need that time to begin to heal mentally as well. I needed to come to terms with what had happened, and remind myself that what happened (being injured that badly) was more of an exception, not a common occurrence.

Once I was ready to start riding again, some things that really helped me were riding other "steady eddy" horses, watching someone else successfully work with my horse, and just doing the small things that I could manage. At first, even climbing up on my friend's dead-broke gelding was enough to make my knees shake. I felt like a first time rider as I insisted we walk for nearly an hour before I felt more comfortable going any faster. I was still prone to random panic attacks (something I've never had to deal with) at just the thought of riding my boy. It was shocking to be sitting at my desk at work on day, and find myself shaking with fear and on the verge of tears at the thought of riding Diego again.

But, I started doing it, and bit by bit it got better. When I first got back on him, I had him stand next to the panels in the corral at home and I just barely slid a leg over, still keeping one foot and a hand on the fence, and would pull myself off his back onto "safety" at the slightest shift on his part. Eventually I got where I could sit on him without hanging onto the fence, and then we progressed to teeny bits of walking around the corral. It was a slow process that took me a couple of weeks to work up to in stages.

When I finally was feeling comfortable at home, I made plans with Bob and Dovie to bring Diego over to their house where they had a round pen. The plan was to do a nice easy little baby trail ride. Instead I found that I was so anxious just in the round pen, and Diego was tense and nervous as well, we were just feeding off each other and nothing good was coming of it. Bob offered to ride Diego for me, which I was very thankful for. I tried to get on Caramel, a horse belonging to a young girl who Dovie gives lessons to. I found that I was just getting frustrated and more fearful, since she was a mare used to getting her way and I wasn't up to arguing. I watched on foot as Bob took Diego out and around the small lot at the end of their street for an easy ride.

The blessings of having good friends, I was able to leave Diego with Bob and Dovie for about a month, where Bob rode him nearly every day and would send me updates on how things were going. I made a point of going over there a few times and riding Diego at their house. I was not at the point where I looked forward to riding him, nor did I ENJOY riding him very much, but it was something I needed to do. I either needed to come to terms with my fear, or try to sell the horse. Watching him succeed under another rider was helpful, as well as having a ton of reinforcing emails about how good he was, etc. As a celebration to the end of training, Diego and I completed in a 10-mile 4-H "Endurance" trail ride. I had to walk on foot for quite a while to get up the nerve to get on, and also got off and walked periodically during the ride as my nerves needed. Bob rode one of their horses with me and provided reassurance. However, we did accomplish our goal of the 10 miles.

From there, things slowly got better. I found I was able to more successfully manage my fear, and use getting off to walk as an outlet when I needed to. I tried to put Diego into new situations, riding with various people, doing ground work bomb-proofing, going to a Formation riding clinic, and various despooking and obstacle clinics. As we successfully completed each of these scenarios, I found myself starting to trust both in my abilities and Diego more and more.

Perhaps one of the biggest turning points was actually coming off again. On Friday before the Washoe Valley endurance ride, where Diego and I did 25 miles, I was pre-riding with a friend when a dad and his two children came bombing through the sand-dunes on their horses. It was a bit too much for Dig to cope with and he spun and set to bucking, and I came off over his shoulder. I landed in the soft sand and was totally fine, a bit sore, a bit shaken, but overall okay. Diego galloped laps around us for about 5 minutes before allowing himself to be caught. The next day we did the ride with no behavioral issues.

This last month, I've discovered something very special: I LOVE RIDING MY HORSE AGAIN! He can be a dork, he will still jump and buck, he's still like a coiled spring for the first few minutes when I get on, but I'm okay. I'm not longer nervous and fearful. I no longer need to get off and walk after any slight issue. The more I regain my confidence and reassert myself, the better he does. Now, his antics are more of an annoyance than a concern; they're a training issue we're working on, not the center of my focus. Now, instead of dreading the ride, I find myself looking forward to each one, and reveling in the glory of being out with my horse for days afterward.

For this, I am so very truly thankful.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Light has Changed and It’s Time To Ride!

When I took my mare to her first cutting practice in 2 ½ years at Cactus Creek Ranch, I wasn’t expecting tons from her.

She has pretty much enjoyed her time off and I have watched her condition shift from competition ready to “fluffy” as she has learned to enjoy a less rigorous life.

It turns out the time away from cattle work hasn’t done me any favors either. My seat was not where it should be, and my timing was off a tic and them some.

My surprise came when my little horse cranked it and went to work like she hadn’t missed a day. She ran a little short and a little crooked, but like I said, both my timing and seat were off, the problems were mostly mine.

Where she had changed was in her physical condition. She doesn’t have the muscle tone, endurance or speed she should have to practice, much less compete. I don’t want to make her sore because she’s out of shape, she’ll get banged around enough while I remember where to sit.

Cow work is supposed to be fun. If it makes her sore she won’t want to keep working.

So how am I going to get us back up to snuff? Both of us need to hone our reaction time from a thought out maneuver to an instinctive one. Cutting puts a lot of strain on hocks and stifles, not to mention backs and shoulders. I don’t want anything to tear or wrench or crack. On either one of us.

I would imagine any regular competitor, in any event, will face the same dilemma if their horse has spent most of the winter working on hay intake and dozing, instead of collection and turns.
What a horse needs to compete is strength, elasticity and wind. I don’t have to actually be cutting to build those things. As a matter of fact, I could end up hurting my horse if I jump her back into the fray without building her first.

When I was a kid I did a little endurance riding. Competing in the NATRC (North American Trail Riders Conference) competitions gave me an incredible understanding in how to safely condition a horse. Learning to check my horses heart rate was one of the best tools I was given. The recovery heart rate is a universal way to assess fitness for any breed in any sport. In order to evaluate the condition of your horse you start with her resting heart rate. In order to be accurate it’s best to have a stethoscope.

Most horses will have a resting heart rate of 42 beats per minute (bpm). Just like us, the fittest horse will have the lowest heart rate, sometimes as low as 25 bpm. Moderate work will bring a horse’s pulse up from 75 to 110 bpm and can go over 200 bpm during heavy work. A healthy horse will recover to below 60 bpm within 10 to 15 minutes of rest.

Horses in poor condition can take 30 to 45 minutes to recover.

The easiest way to know when it’s time to increase exercise levels is when the horse can recover between 44 and 55 bpm within 15 minutes of rest. If the horse’s bpm is over 72 after exercise then you have worked the horse too hard and need to back off.

Or you can count the respiratory rate (breaths), which, while more general, is much easier out on the trail. Again, start with a resting rate, which will be between 8 and 16 breaths per minute. You can count how many breaths the horse is taking by watching the nostrils or flanks. The recovery time from exercise is the same as with the heart rate. If you want to be completely thorough, check both. The heart rate to respiratory rate ratio should be three to one, or two to one. If it becomes one to one you’re in trouble and the horse needs to quit. I don’t want my horse’s workouts to be all about following a flag or blasting through her turns right away.

When I was a kid, Mark Reynor, a great cowboy, told me, “Trotting builds muscle and loping builds wind.”

My horse needs muscle and wind in order to hold it together while turning repeatedly on her hocks and accelerating with everything she’s got to control her cow. I’m going to work on conditioning her by getting on the trail, long trotting and loping in the arena, and adding hill work to encourage getting underneath herself and to build her back. It keeps things interesting and will strengthen her mind while saving her hocks for competition.

Whatever we decide to do, it’s important to start each workout slow. Five minutes of walking and five minutes of trotting can get the horse's body temperature raised and blood flow increased to working muscles. As a result, the muscles and tendons are loosened which increases the range of motion and helps avoid pulling or tearing of tendons and ligaments. The muscles are warmed up, allowing them to handle harder work by smoothly relaxing and contracting. A moderate warm-up will help the horse dissipate heat during intense exercise.

On average it takes a month to see increase condition on a horse. I’m going to try to ride from three to five times a week and make sure she gets at least a couple of days rest. Like any exercise program, a horse needs time off to repair muscle and stave off fatigue.

I’m going to work my horse up to a heart rate from 130 to 150 bpm. Which would put her breath rate anywhere from 45 to 75 or so breaths per minute. It’s easy enough to check this while in the saddle by with a watch and a second hand. Count how many breaths in 15 seconds and multiply by four to get a rough estimate of how your horse is doing. I want to work my horse to about 75% of her limits every time we go out.

Once I have her in better shape we’ll pick up on refining her maneuvers. I’ll still take her to cutting practice a couple times a month, but I’ll be careful not to over do.

While all of this is going, on I have to work on myself too. I can clean up my leg cues in the arena instead of waiting until I’m wasting cattle. If I’m an active participant on our trail rides I can work on my core strength and seat instead of sitting like a lump. Staying on during all the spooks and jumps, which my little darling will inevitably want to share, will get my butt where it belongs.

In a few months I’m thinking we’ll be good to go. Does it sound like I’m getting ready to compete a little? Hmmmm.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Half Pass

Here we go. How and why I use a half pass.

Here's my whys:

The half pass is great for increasing the flexibility of my horses for cowhorse maneuvers.
It gets their focus on me and the job at hand.
It is a great troubleshooter for me and my horse, where are our legs? How are my cues? Is she responding to those cues?
It keeps me alive on wild trail rides.

Here's the hows:

My horse is capable of a shoulder in before I start a half pass.

My version of a shoulder in has the horse coming off the rail at an angle. The bend is through the body to the inside of the arena.
I hold my horse in the bend with the inside rein directing the bend and the outside rein supporting the outside shoulder.
My inside leg is on at the cinch in support of the inside shoulder.
My outside leg is 6-12 inches back to guide the hindquarters.
We move forward along the rail.

At first I want the inside hind in the print of the outside front, creating three tracks in the dirt, then I'll ask for more and get four distinct tracks as we move along the rail.
Eventually we can circle the arena both ways, walk, trot and canter.

When I have this at a walk and trot, I go on to the half pass.

Lets start out at a right angle from the wall.
I'll put my inside leg at my cinch and flex my calf muscles in rhythm with the walk to create my bend. I add spur as needed, again, with intermittent pressure, not solid.
My outside leg pushes the hindquarters and my outside hand steadies the outside shoulder.
I'm pushing hard enough to take the horse laterally, again, I'll add spur as needed.

It's important to keep balanced. An easy check is to see if my horse's ears are even. If they're not, then neither are her shoulders.

I bring my hands (with even pressure) over so my outside rein is at the wither and my inside rein is in the bend, even with the inside ear.
I release pressure from my hands here if my horse is moving forward and laterally. I pick it up again as needed.

I make sure my horse carries her bend from tail to nose. If I have to fix my bend I do it with my inside rein and outside leg.

I make sure I stay in the middle of my horse. My shoulders are turned in the direction of the half pass.

When I teach these maneuvers I only need a step or two at first. Then I release, straighten, relax and go again. I start at a walk and like to ask for a few steps at the shoulders in, then 10 or 15 walking steps forward, then a few shoulders in. I hold them in place and make those few steps happen if I have to.

I consider the maneuver in there when my horse will do it mainly with leg pressure and only support and guidance from my reins.

Once we're in the half pass I'll go back to shoulders in if things get ugly.

I ask for a few steps of half pass and then release and go straight, then a few more. Eventually we can make X's corner to corner of the arena at the walk, trot and canter light and easy.

So there's my half pass. Dressage guys, feel free to tear it up, I'm always ready to improve things.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Mouthy Mondays

CDN Cowgirl bailed me out and sent me her story again. Thanks!


She said, :"By the way, Cessa is 30 now and she's still doing great. In fact she runs
And spins when I go out to feed her."

Last Ride

*note this is not a "Rainbow Bridge" story*

My mare Cessa is 29 this year. Age is catching up to her and I know, at
Least in my mind, that any day could be The Day. That's something my heart
Has trouble remembering.
Cessa is retired now. The vets say that as long as she seems comfortable I
Can ride her, lightly. I'll admit that I haven't really. From time to time I

Ll saddle her and pop on for a little walk around the yard or the arena.
That's about it, even that little bit makes me feel guilty. Cessa has earned

Her retirement. So she gets to roam the pastures for exercise and if I want
To I can pony her off Applejack.
But I remember the last "real" ride I had on her. The last time that I rode
Her with any expectation. The last ride that she actually had to do any
Degree of work.
It was about 2 years ago. Yes that would make her 27, but that day she felt
Much younger.
I brought her into the barn, groomed her and saddled up. She seemed to have
An extra glint in her eye that day. A little more pep in her step as I led
Her out of the barn.
The weather was beautiful. Warm, not hot. We headed across the yard and down

The driveway. Turned left and headed into the nice, grassy ditch. Cessa gave

A toss of her head, her shiny mane flirting with the soft breeze.
The last few years when walking away from home she'd go slowly, almost like
She felt like a feeble old lady. Of course that was a trick. As soon as we
Turned for home she'd be jigging and prancing. But that day her walk was
Smooth and forward. Like she had places to go and things to do.
We crossed the neighbour's driveway and settled into a jog. Of course
Neither of us was happy with that for long and we kicked it up to a nice
Long trot.
I didn't want to tire Cessa so after a few minutes of trotting I sat deep
And we settled into that beautiful, smooth walk again.
Cessa kept tossing her head and occasionally would take a playful, quick
Step. Almost as if to say "C'mon lets GO! Let's make the most of this great
Day and have a FUN ride!" I gave in and squeezed with my legs as I opened my

Fingers a bit on the reins. Cessa didn't need a second invitation and flowed

Into a slow lope.
I smiled as I watched her ears flicking back and forth as we rocked along.
Cessa was breathing nice and easy. She felt solid and steady... And ready.
I moved my hand forward the tiniest bit and she sped up a fraction. One ear
Was locked forward, the other one kept flicking back to me.
I put on a bit more leg and she happily kicked it up a notch. We played this

Game for a minute or two. A bit more leg, a bit freer rein and she'd speed
Up. Every time giving me exactly how much I asked for. Then I sat deep and
We went back to a walk. Breathing a bit hard but not too bad Cessa kept
Playfully tossing her head and trying to sneak in a quicker step or two. She

Still wanted to run.
Instead I made her walk for a little longer before I gave her a pat and some

Leg and off we went again. This time I just let her run. Hand forward onto
Her neck, a deep squeeze with my leg. She sped up in fractions for the first

Few strides. Almost like she couldn't believe I was letting her go.
She loped the first few strides. Then loped a little faster. A few more
Strides and a little faster. And then she WENT. I could feel her mouth firm
On the bit but not lugging and that wonderful surge of muscles as she
Hurtled into high gear. The breeze and the speed created tears that streamed

From my eyes. For awhile I sat steady and let her run as fast as she wanted.

With a happy sigh I pulled my hand back closer to the horn and sat deep.
Cessa slowed to a lope and then a reluctant trot. After a stride, or three,
I closed my fingers more on the reins and she somewhat grudgingly came back
To a walk.
Her bay coat was glossy with a light sweat as we walked home. I think when
we got back to the barn we were both smiling.
To this day the memory of that ride is something I hold dear in my heart.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Cupcake-I'm Done

I turned on my cruise control so my itchy foot wouldn't end up getting me a speeding ticket. Cupcake was getting picked up today.

His owner, Stacey, was meeting me a 8:00 in the morning. She wanted to see him ridden and was planning on riding him herself. Since she had never bothered to come watch or ride the entire time I had him, I was a little nervous.

He had packed my daughter around once and had skittered a bit, but they had worked it out without any mishaps. Other than that, I was the only one to handle him.

As I pulled into the yard I saw Stacey standing with my boss Rainy in the upper arena. Stacey had Cupcake out and saddled with a roping saddle I hadn't seen before. She had her three-year-old boy sitting in the saddle.

I got out of the car and walked toward the group. My boss looked over at me, a little wild eyed, with a nervous smile on her face. Her renter was there too, her two kids screaming and fighting over who got to run a hot wheel up and down the road below the arena.

Cupcake stood quiet, with one hip cocked, and looked around at the chaos..

"You're here a little early I see," I said.

"I wanted to check him out for myself," Stacey answered, and giggled."I needed to know if my saddle fit him."

"I'm not really comfortable having the boy up there," I told her, "he's broke, but not that broke."

"He's fine," she told me,"Cupcake likes him. Boy, gelding him sure quieted him down."

"Training him helped some," I said.

"Oh, I know, I'm just talking about how sweet he is. Can he spin? How's his stop?" Stacey asked.

"He can turn around a few steps. He's not going to have a big stop, but he'll quit moving forward when you say Whoa," I said.

One of the renter kids came up the trail on the Big Wheel and started down the side of the arena. Cupcake arched his neck and snorted. I reached up and swung her boy to the ground before the colt swung his butt around so he could spook at the Big Wheel. The little boy scooted after the other two kids and started screaming too.

"We really can't let him ride until you sign a release for him," I told her, "and we do require anybody under 18 to wear a helmet."

She stared at me with a vacant, "I don't understand," look on her pretty face and said, "Well those rules don't apply for just sitting on a horse do they? Anyway,I already signed one."

"We need a release if you're even going to come in the pens or pastures, and the release was for you, not your whole family" I said. I pasted a big friendly smile on my face. "Did you ride him?"

"Oh no, I'd be too nervous, you ride him first."

"Oh, I'm sorry, I figured you must have tried him out, since you had your son up there," my smile got a little wider as I reached for good thoughts.

Rainy threw me a horrified look but didn't seem to feel the need to step up and help. I sighed and took Cupcake's lead from his owner. I walked him to the middle of the arena and stripped the saddle off of him.

"I'm not riding until the Big Wheel is put up," I told them and led him back into the barn to put my own rig on.I heard some angry complaints, some kid throwing a fit and car driving away. The renter had left.

I led him out by the roping saddle, mounted up and we rode off. We walked, trotted, loped, stopped and turned on the fence. We serpentined. We backed up. We turned on the forehand and walked the first few steps of a turn-around. We opened ans closed the arena gate and long trotted up and down the road.

I came back, dismounted, and put him back in the roping saddle. I walked around him and picked up each foot. I pulled on his tail and yanked on the saddle. I handed Stacey the reins.

She got on and started to walk around the arena.

"Did you put him on cattle?" she asked.

"I don't put horses on cattle at sixty days," I said. My smile came back.

"Hmmm." she answered.

She couldn't get him to lope. I walked her through it until she sorted things out, and relaxed as she tooled around on her horse. I couldn't help but feel a flash of satisfaction. She rode well, and Cupcake moved along easily. He picked up his leads and kept his shoulders up through the corners. There were a few steps of head tossing and panicky jumping when she stopped him by cranking on him without a warning, but they survived it. I told her to go ahead and stop him like a reiner and things smoothed out.

She dismounted with a grin and gave Cupcake a pat. "Well, I think he's just fine," she told me.
We visited politely for a few minutes and I loaded Cupcake in the trailer. He walked in and stayed calm while I tied him. I gave him a scratch on the withers and left.

The boss and I watched them drive out to the main road.

"I guess I'll get out the horses," I started towards the show barn.

"You sound awfully calm," the boss said.

"Wha...?," I stopped and looked back.

"I thought you were going to bite her," Rainy started to laugh.


"You kept baring your teeth at her, I could almost hear you snarl." She burst out laughing and went to grab some halters.

Two weeks later Rainy told me Cupcake had been run through the Calhan sale with the loose stock. Stacey decided she didn't have time to work a young horse. He sold for $125 to an unnamed buyer.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Mouthy Monday

Emilie sent this in. She has written about Pearl before, her standardbred rescue mare. Get out your hankies.

Please you guys, please don't send me links to your stories. I'm not smart enough to get them pasted up. I spent 20 minutes trying to get CDN Cowgirl's story, "Last Ride" posted and had to give up. Sigh. If you resend it I'll post it, it's a great story.


Pearl's Story

We are now about mid-June, Pearl is about ready to foal, it's only a matter of time. She has some milk in her udder, her hind end is relaxed and as smooshy as Jello. I am getting excited, we have no idea of her breeding date or even why she was bred if they sent her to auction not even mid-term! All we know is that the sire is a black Standardbred... pretty popular color if I may say! I never did find the stallion.

We did find the registration for both the rescues, Peg and Pearl.
I was worried, I could barely sleep at night, what if the baby was still-born, what if one or both wouldn't make it!? I loved Pearl and didn't want to lose her and I was totally ready to take on a foal, my first but not the first I had handled and trained. We spent a month (as soon as we got her) feeding supplements to Pearl, giving her fresh cut alfalfa to increase her milk production, taking absolute care of her in hopes that the foal would make it, despite the complete lack of nutrition he had endured while Pearl was sent to auction for meat.

I knew the birth was nearing due to the signs but I had no idea if the foal would be premature or if she had kept it longer due to all of the stress (being thin, new farm, etc.) since we didn't have the breeding date.

The next morning, we woke early in hopes to go meet Pearl and the new foal, we had checked on Pearl during the night, but nothing. Needless to say, I didn't sleep that night. We got to the barn all happy and smiling... to find Pearl... as big as ever! So we checked her and told her she had played a good trick on us!

I had to leave the farm because my parents own a cottage and people wanted to rent it for the summer, so we went and cleaned the whole thing, top to bottom.

We were nearing lunch time when my sister-in-law comes over. It's Pearl, she foaled at 11:20 am on June 20th 2009 and she was fine... Since my sister-in-law is a non-horsey person (I mean not AT ALL!). I saved my questions for myself. I finished up and went over to the barn about an hour and a half after the foal was born, I couldn't get there fast enough! When I first saw him, it broke my heart. He was a cute pure black little colt with no markings... the REAL black stallion. No doubt he was a pure Standardbred. He was thin and weak. When I rounded the corner of the barn to see him, he was lying there, exhausted, directly in the harsh sun.

Right there, he looked normal, a little thin, but I expected that. He was born inside and had managed to make it outside. But the frogs of his hooves were unused, which led me to believe that he had not yet gotten up to nurse. We poked him and encouraged him to stand, to no avail. That was a red flag. I then thought he wouldn't make it to nightfall.

His front and back legs were weak and swayed from side to side when he tried to get up... he just wasn't strong enough.

He had long legs and would be a tall guy. I wasn't going to let him die before my eyes. I went and got my boyfriend and we lifted him to his legs. He was really unsteady and fell over many times, so we held him up to nurse. At that point, mom wasn't having any of it and wouldn't let us near enough to have the foal nurse, even on a lead she wouldn't tolerate him nursing. So I went and got a bottle, milked Pearl (she was fine with that!) and proceeded to feed the colt by bottle. I managed to get enough milk in his belly to keep him going for a little while. He could now stand for short periods of time. We were happy!

But that was short lived.. he would be so close to being able to nurse and mom would move away and he would just fall down again. That night, I gave him a shot of vitamins... Broke my heart to have to give a shot to such a small little guy. I noticed a deformity in his back and back legs immediately, but I thought that it would settle itself and that it was caused by him being so leggy in such a small space during his development and by being so weak on top of that! Pearl is hardly 14.3 hh... clearly this guy is to be much taller than that. I still think it was caused by him being in too narrow of a place to develop normally.

We were getting up at night to make sure he nursed, until one day, he could nurse on his own! We were thrilled! He was now nursing, walking around and was able to get up and lay down on his own. It was time to turn him out! He could run, but those back legs always kept him dragging behind, at least he wasn't falling over!

On the night of June 28th, we had a rodeo in our small town, we were all attending. When we got home, it was about midnight and we decided to make our way to the barn to check on the colt. We found him laying in the shelter, with mom, Peg and Dandy all watching over him. He was still weak and thin, but he seemed to be resting calmly.

So anyways, that night, he seemed fine, we didn't make him get up because he was sleeping when we found him there and felt a bit bad that we had disturbed him. So we went to bed and I remember clearly saying to my guy that I thought he would make it (after spending 8 days dangling!).

The next morning, my guy was up early and went out to check the horses. I remember it was a foggy morning. He came back and told me that the little colt wasn't doing well and that he was dying. I couldn't believe it, jumped out of bed into clothes that I probably had worn before (I didn't really care!!!) and made my way to the field. The horses were WAY at the other end (we have a 40 acre pasture) and when they spotted me, Dandy came running over, screaming and Pearl came half the way, quickly going back to the foal. I knew they were trying to tell me something was wrong. I slowly walked over...

My heart was in my throat, I couldn't see the foal, but could tell from Pearl where he was lying. I got close and spotted him... he was lying flat on his side, breathing hard and groaning. I talked to him calmly and petted him a bit. I lifted his head and he just couldn't hold it up. I started worrying that he had broken his neck running and falling. But I palpated everything and it was all clear, all legs were ok... nothing apparent. We called a vet as soon as we found him, but our vet is a 2 hour drive away... and that is if he is not in another emergency situation. He was finishing something up and coming right over... I had no hope. I called my mom crying, I was hysterical. She made me feel a bit better. I returned to the field slowly and saw both Dandy and Pearl running over... Pearl came right to the gate, whinnied a deep bone chilling whinny, she had a look in her eyes saying "Help me! Follow me!", then she quickly turned back and ran to her colt. Dandy walked the whole way with me and I had the most sour feeling, heart in my throat, tearing up and basically just going crazy. I found the poor little colt lying there, still breathing hard but the breaths were far apart. I decided to stay with him.

I sat beside him, in the damp grass, petting him and comforting him. I told him it was ok to go (even if I didn't feel I was ready for him to), that I'd be ok and that I would look after his mom, that Pearl would have a forever home with us and that there was nothing to be worried about. I told him that I loved him deeply and that I would never forget him, his little whinnies when he heard our voices and his sweet face. I was broken and tears were running down my cheeks. I soon noticed that he wasn't breathing anymore, his little mount had opened a bit, so I stuck my finger in... there was nothing, not a blink of an eye, nothing. I was devastated. I gave him a last kiss and told him goodbye, but at that time I was truly crying and sobbing. I remember telling him not to go yet, but it was too late. I had to live with this, my first horse lost, one I had took very special care of and that I'd spent more than a few sleepless nights worrying over. He died at about 10:00 am on June 29th, 2009. I took hold of my emotions and went to get my guy (he didn't want to see the foal die). We took the foal away, mom and Dandy (Dandy was the guardian (aunt) of the colt) screamed the most heart breaking whinny and ran to the gate trying to see where we were taking him. The foal was buried and the vet hadn't even been near. I doubt he could've done anything at that point, so I called and cancelled.

Somehow, the horses knew exactly what had happened. They kept looking around for the little one and Pearl stayed away from us for a few days. We were heart broken for a week solid and we still can't mention the little guy without tearing up. I still have tears running down my cheeks as I write this. The colt is buried on our farm, not far from the pasture. The 9 days that he spent with us will be forever engraved in my heart.

I will never forget him, he was my very first foal (from one of my horses) and he had a forever home with us from the moment his mom got to our farm. We did the best that we could to help him. He didn't seem to be suffering, he just seemed weak and the deformity only added to the problem. He took a piece of my heart with him when he passed. We miss him a lot. I hope he is running with the wind in the greener pastures.

Love you Little Guy (We had named him Black Jack)

Friday, March 4, 2011

Trail Horse - Ha!

Trail Horses Gone Wild

By Janet Huntington

I have to extend an apology to every nervous trail rider I have used my, ”Just get out there and ride, you’ll be fine,” tone with. Please understand I get it now. I didn’t mean to make you feel like you were being a sissy.

It was, however, because I was resting on the laurels of the trails I covered as a much younger rider. At 14, 20, even 30-years-old I had no problem taking off at a gallop across Garden of the Gods Park without a thought, a saddle or a riding buddy. I had complete confidence in myself and my horse.

By the time I hit my 40’s I was solidly entrenched in riding in the arena. My job was to give lessons and train performance horses. I no longer had time for trail rides. I completely believed a well trained horse could be expected to head out on the trail and behave himself, even if he had never been on one.

Every once in a while I would be asked to take a clients horse out, which I did, but it wasn’t much more than a stroll out in the fields.
Since my retirement I have the opportunity to trail ride again. I’ve jumped on it and found I like getting out as much as I ever did as a kid. I also realized out what’s broke in the arena ain’t necessarily broke on the trail. The term “arena baby” has taken on a whole new meaning for me.

The first horse I rode out on the trail was a sharp little bay gelding I had trained for reined cowhorse. He had a nice little handle on him and a pleasant temperament.

Our first ride out ended up with us falling off the trail and sliding down a gully. Turned out he didn’t know to follow the trail, he was just holding his line like we were doing a run-down. My hand was quiet, so he went straight. Even if it meant we did an endo over the side of the trail. He had learned to stay straight as long as my hand stayed in the middle, so he did exactly that.

I can just imagine him thinking, “OK now, why don’t you tell me to turn here, this isn’t going to be pretty, AHHHH!”

By the end of the summer he was going out in groups and alone and handling himself well.

This year I’ve been taking out my favorite horse, a yellow mare who has shoved all of her common sense out of her head, in order to make room for her cow sense. At least that’s my theory.

She is really cool on a cow. She is focused and serious when she’s coming out of the herd or heading down the fence. She seems to like the show ring. I hate to anthropomorphize my girl, but she really lights up when she has people tell her she’s pretty. She’s kind of a show off.

Her trail training has been going in fits and starts. She takes the “arena baby” name to new heights when she’s out on the trail. So far she has learned to deal with water, mud, horse-eating rocks and wild turkeys.

At first she would take big wild leaps in response to startling things on the trail. We sailed over many a creek and jumped sideways at more than one piece of heavy equipment.

Now she keeps her spooks limited to a little jump and a bug-eyed stare. For the most part she’s been a pretty good horse.

So I decided we needed to start riding out alone. I want to be able to head for the trail whenever I have a spare minute and not have to worry about whether my riding buddies cancel on me or not.

I started out by taking her for a short 15 minute walk after we had a good workout in the arena. She was a little boogery, for the most part she handled it.

This past week the lure of the trail was just too much for me. So I took my little yellow mare and headed out.

As soon as she realized we were hitting the trail she started to holler. She started to jig and shake her head. She stopped and tried to do her twirly, I –think-I might-buck-you-off, thing. She flipped her tail over her back like a husky and froze solid.

It’s good we were alone, I was really embarrassed.

Since my little horse is still ridden in a ½ inch hackamore (bosel) I have to stay light and feely, even if she’s not doing the same. I needed to think of something to do to get her mind on me, rather than all the spooks and haunts. I started to half-pass.

This is a pretty regular thing I’ll do to a jigging or distracted horse. They usually figure out pretty quick it’s much easier to be quiet than to crab walk .
My mare tried to have an opinion about it, but when I got after her and explained I needed her feet just so and her ribs around my leg like this, she finally started to work.

My plan was to keep her working, first one way and then the other, until she decided to walk. Guess what?

We half-passed for about 3 or 4 miles.

I came home with a foamy horse. She did come in at the walk though. Then we worked in the arena for awhile.

I wasn’t feeling particularly sympathetic.

We’re going to be doing this a lot more. I’m tempted to head out early one morning and head down the Santa Fe Trail until she acts like a grownup. Then we’ll walk back. I’m a little afraid we’ll end up at the Air Force Academy.

To my mind, if she’s broke enough to calmly hit the trail, even if it’s just the two of us, then she should be cool as a cucumber when we finally get back to the show ring.

If we live through the breaking process. It never fails, every time I think I know something it turns out I know nothing at all.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Mouthy Monday on Tuesday

Sorry....My multi-talented computing skills allowed me to lose yesterday's post instead of put it up.
I do want to post a thank-you letter I got from a reader who asked me how to fix a jigging horse. I have always maintained jigging can be fixed if the rider invests the time to do it, with patience and consistency.

I have had more argument from people about this than any other training technique I have offered. It has always confused me, because it's so simple and effective.

"I just wanted to say a huge THANK YOU for this wonderful advice (zig-zagging to quiet a jigging horse). Last night, my mare calmly walked all the way home to the barn from a solo trail ride, relaxed and happy, on a loose rein. This might not sound like a big deal but it was SUCH a change for the two of us! I can't get over how well (and how quickly) this technique worked. My horse "got it" almost immediately and it was such a perfect way to correct her without either of us getting worried or upset.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!"


Here's a story I managed not to lose.

Our writer bought her horse as a halter broke 5 year old. She wrote, " We spent about 16 months fighting and struggling. Just in the past 6-8 months have we really started to get things figured out. Now we are competing in endurance (finished 4- 50 mile rides so far) and working on dressage as cross training. We have both come a long way and I am really starting to love this horse!"


Cougar Prowl- The Fall

I will preface this story by saying that Boomer and I finished the Okmulgee Cougar Prowl and we are both doing great!

However, we did have a fall. It was by far the worst wreck I have ever been involved in and the second worst I have witnessed.

It rained a few inches in the week preceding the ride. It was pretty muddy and slick, but not too boggy. It wasn't raining during the ride, but the ground didn't have much time to dry out.

We were trotting along and had to make a sudden right turn off of a jeep road into the woods. Then two strides later we had to make another hard right into the woods on a slight downhill slope.

I didn't expect the second part of the turn and we just didn't make it.

Boomer started to go down and I could see the ground coming closer. We both fell towards the left.

You know how after an accident, you can only remember things in clips, like they were photographs? That's how it was for me.

I see the ground coming closer. I am looking up and his shoulder is inches above my chest. Then I have a sensation about my legs being under him, I can feel part of the saddle but I'm not stuck.

I don't remember how we were positioned on the trail after that. I don't remember getting up or where I was compared to him when I got up.

I do know that I ended up on his left side, he was facing straight like he hadn't made the final part of the turn. His right side was facing down the trail.

He flailed and tried rear up twice, trying to run. He kept jerking towards the right, but wasn't going anywhere. I reached out to grab the reins but only got his breast collar. I was repeating "whoa, whoa, whoa" and hoping he wouldn't run. After struggling and trying to rear up twice, with his head facing towards the right, he collapsed.

He was struggling and on his right side. His jaw was jerked open and I realized his reins were stuck. That's why he couldn't rear up all the way or run. I dropped down so I was below his neck, between his front legs and head, and put my hand on his shoulder to calm him so he would stop jerking his bit. The reins were under him and around his back leg. They had come over his head, were along the right side of his body and wrapped around his left back leg.

He stopped thrashing. I unclipped the reins from his bit, slowly unhooked his leg and straightened the bit in his mouth.

He relaxed his back leg and laid there, still. I just sat by his head and stroked his cheek, talking to him. I looked him over and didn't see any damage.

In the moment I asked him to get up I had the realization that as calm as I had felt thought all of that, if he couldn't get up, I would just breakdown and lose it. Luckily he just continued laying still until I quietly asked him to 'get up'. He just stood up like he understood me and stood there. I checked him over and everything seemed fine except for a small nick on his right front cannon bone. Looked like he got himself with his shoe. It was bleeding but didn't seem serious. I checked our tack and decided we would keep on moving since we were about halfway through our first loop. If he felt off at all, I was going to pull.

I did a quick mental check on myself while all of this was going on. It went something like "I'm standing- legs are fine. Arms seem fine. I can breathe. Wearing contacts- no lost glasses. Helmet is still on."

I got on and we walked down the trail. He felt fine. He wasn't panting or breathing hard. He wasn't shaking or scared. Neither was I. It was so strange. In every other fall I've had, I always get a huge adrenaline rush. My arms and legs get tingly, I shake, and I feel nauseated. I never felt that when this happened. I never panicked or got scared. It was a strange thing to have happen. The whole thing probably happened in 2 minutes or less.

After a while walking down the trail Boomer offered to trot and I sat it instead of posting so I could feel his foot fall pattern and check for lameness. He seemed fine.

He sure was much more cautious about the mud though. When I asked him to walk, he instantly slowed down. When it felt slick, he slowed on his own. He was much more careful and so was I.

At the first vet check I told the vet what had happened and she looked at his leg extra closely. The nick had been rinsed clean in a stream. It wasn't bleeding and looked clean- no clots. She said that he looked fine and passed him with all A's.

Needless to say, John was freaked. He was so worried about us all day. I knew I couldn't make him feel better about what had happened but I did try to emphasize that it was an accident, It wasn't Boomer's fault, and we were both fine.

Looking back, it almost doesn't seem real. It was a very, very scary thing. We were so very lucky that we were in such a muddy area because I could have been crushed had we fallen like that on hard rocks or a packed surface.

The day after the ride kind of felt like the day after Christmas. Sort of a deflated feeling. Almost a regretful feeling, like I had done something bad. Something bad did happen. Boomer and I were both very close to having been hurt badly. But we are fine. It took a lot out of me on Sunday to think about that and wrap my mind around it. I mean, my horse rolled over me and I am no worse for the wear. I have a bit of a muscle spasm in my lower left back area, but I'm fine.

I just keep saying that to myself. My horse rolled over on me and I am fine.

Puts things into perspective. Strange as it was, it was bonding experience for Boomer and I. We both felt the gravity of the situation and we both got through it. Every ride we finish brings us closer.

My horse rolled over on me and I am fine.