Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Mouthy Mondays on Thursday


OK folks- You want a cliff hanger? Melissa just gave us a doozy....I for one will be cruising over to her blog to see what happens.

Full Circle

I keep my hips slightly to the outside as Grace enters the lower corner of the arena; I know this small act of counter balance will keep her along the rail as she lopes out of the corner. She already knows our next move; she’s been looking forward to it for the entire lesson. I look across the arena and my thought of beginning the pattern is all she needs; Grace makes a smooth turn off the rail to come straight across the middle. This is where I have to keep my mind clear, try not to let my thoughts wander to the lead change too quickly. My hips are straight now; they have caught up with Grace’s line. I close my left leg at the girth, pushing her into my right rein. I feel the little mare engage underneath me, she is ready. As we hit the middle of the arena I bring my left hip forward releasing the energy that has been dying to get out from under my leg. The lead change is smooth and clean, it feels like riding a wave as my body stays with the motion as it is lifted and dropped. It is over in one stride, not even a second long. I almost wonder if it really happened, but I don’t have time to ponder, the wall is coming up and we have another change to prepare for……

In the last 10 years I have attempted countless disciplines with this horse. I find myself at most competitions explaining that “she wasn’t bred for this, but she sure does love it”. Whether it was barrel racing, or reining I always knew there would be a limit to what she could physically do over time, as her conformation did not lead to longevity in either sport. I moved away from competitions and refocused on the basics, rebuilding Grace’s foundation along the way. I started to see in her body what Peggy referred to as the “horse’s potential”. It was Sarah that brought it up first when I was rambling on about what Grace and I might like to do this summer. “Western Riding – it’s a pattern class, you know this mare loves lead changes, besides, it’s what she was bred for.”

Grace’s sire Imager (Barpasser’s Image) went to the world show in Western Riding. I stopped finding his get for sale on Dream Horse in the last year. A few years ago there were show horses; one was a tall sorrel gelding in California. He had qualified and gone to the World Show. His bottom side really got my attention; he was out of a Smooth Town mare – just like Grace. Here was this gelding with breeding almost identical to Grace with a price tag of $60,000. I contacted the owner and let her know that I had no intention of buying her horse, but if she was willing to talk I was curious if she would share any details about her horse that was so closely bred to mine. She went on to tell me about his incredible work ethic, how he had to be worked 6 days a week, how he loved to show and how he excelled in anything that involved patterns. He liked to use his brain. She could have very well been describing the horse I had out sitting in my pasture.

So here we are after years of playing and dabbling here and there in multiple disciplines getting ready to do what the mare was actually bred for. Our first show is May 22nd, and as I wonder if I will ever get my black chaps from 10 years ago to fit again or what am I going to do with my turquoise ostrich bling tack set, I keep picturing that moment. That half second of suspension in mid-air as Grace changes her lead below me getting to do not only what she loves, but also what she was bred for.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Reining Torn Apart

There is a video of one of the most successful reiners Craig Schmersal, in the country going around right now. In it he is working a horse in the warm up at a show.

He is getting his horse ready to show by fencing her and aggressively backing her after each stop.

There is a huge outcry going up attacking him for his brutal methods.

I've been really thinking on this a lot and reading what the reactions have been. There has been tons of negative commentary from people who don't rein at all, and some who do but very clearly haven't been at the top of the food chain in major events.

Before I step in this any further, I want to make it clear I quit training because the higher I went the harder it was for me emotionally to train the way it took to keep climbing. I chose not to keep at it.

But....what Schmersal was doing is a very standard warm up. I can guarantee he is not trying to make the horse's mouth sore. If the mare bleeds or is raw when his run is over he will be disqualified. There are always stories of trainers getting away with bloody mouthed horses, but trust me, if you get caught, you will be DQ'd. I've been there and seen it happen.

Again, I don't like it, but I'm never going to be a $2 million dollar money earner either, unlike Schmersal.

It shouldn't be about the money, but it is. The owner wants to win, the trainer needs to win and the horse needs to win. the standard is set by AQHA and the judges and the trainers are paid to meet it.

Schmersal didn't make this stuff up. His horse is supposed to run on a draped rein with her head in that stupid position. She can't see anything and has to trust her rider to safely guide her through the pattern. So she can't be enraged or terrified or she won't be able to finish her run.

If you watch the video closely you will see she doesn't gape her mouth when he corrects her. It opens, but not far. She's also doing a lot of licking and chewing. This means she's thinking, not terrified or in pain. She keeps dropping her face, because that's what she's been taught to do to escape pressure, again, per required show standards, not because Schmersal decided to overflex his horse.

If he was using a cruel bit or if he was truly ripping at her as has been suggested, excuse me, screamed from the roof tops, then the mare would be reacting in some other way than backing, tucking her nose, and dropping her head. She is not sweating and foaming like a stressed out horse would be either.

Do I like the exaggerated head set and riding behind the vertical? No I do not. Would I like to see a more natural run? Yes I would. But do I think Schmersal is some kind of horrible abuser? No, hell no, as a matter of fact. At least not from what I saw in the video.

Do you like watching the NRHA finals and looking at all the pretty reiners? Than get over what it takes to get them there. the trainer has to feed his horses, pay his employees and make a living. He has to perform as the industry expects in order to be the best.

Again, I am not comfortable with the methods it takes to be the best in the show pen. I choose not to go there. But the mare was well cared for, had a healthy weight and coat and was responding to the schooling by trying to do what she was told. Her mouth wasn't tied shut, I didn't see blood streaming down her flanks and it doesn't look to me like she's evading him in any way.

She will have a good life as a top broodmare when she is done. She won't end up at a sale because she was kissed and hugged until she learned to run over the kids and kick at them when they came out to feed. She will ride like a dream because she has been taught to. Having been taught to perform like she does will go a long way to ensuring a safe and happy life for her.

Schmersal is not randomly tearing at her. There is rhythm and control behind every bump. When he goes into the pen the mare will go through her entire run with her head down, her nose in and a draped rein. Again, industry standard.

If we don't like the approach we can do many things. Not do it ourselves and try for success anyway. Not attending events which use practices we feel are abusive is another one. Writing organizations, starting campaigns with documented information from say, veterinarians, judges, trainers and amateur riders who back up your thinking is another idea. Running off at the mouth from the advice of people who no nothing about the actual sport they are condemning is a really BAD IDEA. It makes us all look like idiots.

My other problem is one that's been brewing in my addled brain for awhile. Schmersal is in business. He doesn't love these horses, although he's going to like any horse who is succeeding. He treats them like tools.

But he is going to take care of his investment. If the horse is going to win it needs top feed, top veterinary care and so on.

Is this worse than a backyard bred horse who spends his life in a crappy little pen eating low grade food and an odd assortment of random supplements? A horse kept either 100 pounds overweight or 50 pounds under because his owner hasn't learned what a healthy horse looks like? A horse that has an owner who buys some old horse whisperer tapes off eBay and proceeds to run the crap out of him in a forty foot round pen?

Is a blown tendon from being trained for the three-year-old futurities worse than a blown tendon from sticking a leg through a hog wire fence? Is it more abusive to bump down a show horse's head or to feed them a bag of lawn clippings?

Anyway, now I'm rambling, but this is all the stuff roaring through my head.

I don't bang my horses head down. I think it's wrong. I do understand why Craig Schmersal does though.It's one tiny part of what it takes to be the best. Does this make him a bad guy or a bad trainer? I don't think so.

So what will it take to change things? I don't know. My head hurts. Later.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Mouthy Monday

Here is a letter "sent" by one of Evensong's retired boarders to his owner a few years back. Notice the "bill" embedded at the end.RT, now 31 and still going strong, is the little bay in the middle, Kate is Evensong's dun overo, and Misty is her gray broodmare (now retired).

Hi! I iz RT--that stands for Royal Tardez--And I iz the bestest little Araben guy in town! An her iz the storie ov mah trip to tha toof doctr.

My auntie Laurie thought it wud be a gud idea for me to go to the toof doctr for a chec-up las wek. So, since iz ben a long timz since I ben in the rattle-box on wheels for a twip, on Fridaze, we practisd gettin in n owt. The firz 3 timz, she let me back out when I wantd, wich was pretty sun, cuz I nevr ben too crazee bout dem rattlebox tins, but then she asked me to stan there a bit, and cuz I iz so great, I did it. It wazn so bad--cuz then Auntie Laurie, she gives me sum grain foods! Nom, nom!

So Saturdaz morning at O-dark-thirty, out come Auntie Laurie and caches up my girl fren Mama Misty, and puts her in the rattlebox on wheels. Then it's my spottd grl fren Kate's turn, but Kate izn as good as me--she iz notty, and doesn want to go in the rattlebox on wheels. So Auntie and Kate duz sum baccin up and sum runnin in crcles, an finely Kate decides to be gud like the RT man, and she gos in the rattle box, and she stands quiet-like, whilst Auntie Laurie coms and getz me, RT, and I walk right in the rattle box, just to sho that silly spottd horsie Kate what good Araben guys do when they bein gud for the hoomin peoples.

So then we gos on a ride in the rattlebox, an I desid I gonna be gud, cuz I gotta set a gud exampl for the silly spottd Paint horsie, Kate, an I, RT, don dance, and I don sing, and I go right into the strange littl toof doctr house, that smelz like medisin, an I get the happy shot in mah nec and I all happy now. An I hardly care that the toof doctr is pokin aron in my mowf, and grindz on mah teef, an evn says I gotta floss bettr, whatevr that meens. An in the daz I in, I do her the toof doctr say somethin like my teef r in pretty gud shape for a Araben gent of my advancd maturitie. An then I, RT, getz to go stand next to mah spottd grl fren , silly Kate, while Mama Misty get her teef dun too! Then silly spotted horsie Kate gets to trt and trt around, to sho the teef doctr, who is also a leg doctr, that her funny boo-boo leg is duin hokay. An Im a lttl woozie, but not so woozie that I don worry when my grl frenz get dere turnz--I like ta hollr encuregemen to tem and tell tem to be gud lik me, RT, waz.

Wen we iz all dun with the toof an leg doctr, Auntie Laurie lodz us all bac in the rattle box and whiltz Mama Misty and silly spottd horsie Kate walk on hokay, I practly gotz to lead Auntie Laurie up the ramp, I iz so gud, an so reddy to gose back to my baby grl frenz Amy an Beth, at my nis barn wif the nis co-z doorz an the big pastur and the nis hay fudz. An wen we git there, Auntie Laurie saz I, RT, is a gud Arabin, an givs me sum grain fudz, wich I totly desrv, cuz I iz RT, the bestest Araben gent in town!

An Auntie Laurie say she gets to pai the leg doctr too bags of grain wurth of monies to find out that silly Kate's leg is hokay jus by lookin at it an not doin nuttin, but nuttin like Auntie Laurie and my big sity grl Bree and my little sity grl Crissy are gonna hafta pay for the teef cleanin! Cuz that camed to too hundrez and sixteens dollars, an I don no how much that is, but I thin it wud buy lots of grain fudz, but what gud is grain fudz if we hansumest Araben horsies cant chu themz? An I iz eatin grain fudz all the tim now, so my billz at Auntie Laurie's nis barn is goin ta be seventy fives dollrz now, but that not to bad for a sooper Araben guy like me, RT!

Anyhoo, thaz mah story of mah twip to the toof doctr. I cant wate for my nex ad-ven-tour!

I iz RT! The bestest little Araben guy in town! Bi-bi!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Odds and Ends

Are we freaked out enough about this awful EHV-1 virus yet?

Of course I showed my mare for the first time last Sunday. What was I doing? Cutting. Had any of the horses there been to Utah? I don't know.

This is a small, regional club. One group comes from a pretty competitive, polished barn up north from me.Their trainer and a few of his non-pros could have been in Utah, but the rest of us are pretty much local gunzels.

I'm still worried.

I'm in the middle of working out the logistics of taking on a horse rescue gone hoarder. It's a heartbreaking mess and is going to take months of case building to get anything done. Someday I'll be able to share this, but not yet. Nothing in the rescue world is ever black and white.

I was dinking with my widgets and my followers disappeared. Anybody know where they went? I miss them terribly.

I have some more thoughts on the confusion of the potential cruelty of misguided love for horses and the kindness that can come from what some would consider cruel treatment.

I've been writing a lot about my goofy mare and dealing with her fear.

This past weekend I went to a cutting horse competition. I entered two classes. My friend Kathy came with and we brought her horse Rosie.

Rosie is the other half of the "bad mares in love" situation I've had going on. Madonna and Rosie have fallen into a very unhealthy love. They are BFF's and only have eyes for each other.

They live together and can't breathe without each other. While I've been battling the
enabling relationship they have developed Kathy has been, well, letting Rosie be a bone head.

She is finally getting either sick of it, or embarrassed, and decided to leave Rosie tied to the trailer for the day.

I kept Madonna in the arena, out of Rosie's sight for eight hours. As a matter of fact, I sat on her all day. So Madonna whinnied and fretted in the arena and Rosie whinnied and fretted and dug a hole to China tied to the trailer.

No food, no water, no pity, for either of them.

Pretty rotten of us, yes?

Here's the thing. Madonna fussed and fretted most of the day. We blew our first class. I loped, trotted and walked her in the warm-up, alternating with frequent rests while we watched the action.She and Rosie cried back and forth every time the arena door was opened to change cattle.

By the end of the day Madonna was standing still, dozing, with her hip cocked.

We went in for our last run and placed in the money.

I got down, loosened her cinch and we went back to Rosie. They got to go home to dinner.

We went riding yesterday.Madonna and Rosie were very well behaved. I took Madonna back to the trailer and Rosie stayed in the arena alone. Not a peep out of either one. I saddled Odie(formerly known as Leeland)and left Madonna tied at the trailer alone.

No whinnies, no anxiety, no misbehavior for either one.

They had a long,tough, emotionally exhausting day on Sunday. Yet nobody died, nobody beat them, and when they were quiet and calm they got to go home. I lucked out and was able to reward my quiet, calm horse right after she got to it and got her cow work done the way it should be.

Neither Kathy or I picked at them or ever got angry,we just gave them the hours they needed to deal.We didn't love on them either, at least while they were being stupid.
Lots of rubs on the way out of the show pen and before we loaded them up for the trip home though.

I did find out one very sad fact. I definitely have lost my pro butt. I was able to sit in the saddle for 10 and 15 hours at a stretch not too long ago.

My butt is still killing me. Turns out I've got a non-pro butt. Sigh.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


"She's a one person horse. It happens sometimes," the boss said. "She's never going to let anybody else ride her."

"She doesn't have an option," I said. "I can't afford to keep her.'

Riding Tally was like riding a cat. She flowed. Her muscular little body never was thrown off course by my weight, yet she read every shift and tried to accommodate.

There was no spook to her. Nothing fazed her. Dogs, vehicles, other horses, it was all the same to her. She learned very quickly. Once she understood what I was asking she gave it her all, every time, 100%.

She was so quick I wasn't completely sure I could stay on her through a fence turn. I had never come off, but it was just a sense I had about her. I always felt if I asked for more I might just get more than I could handle.

I moved her out of the dusty, isolated stall in the arena, and into an outside pen. She had fresh air, room to run and companionship. The boss made sure he was there to watch the first time I went to catch her. He was sure he'd have some fun to share with Bill. I had to work hard to keep the smirk off my face when I went right to her and she followed me to the gate with a bright expression. Just to rub it in a little I didn't halter her until we got to the gate. I wanted to be sure the boss knew I had her.

I had crossed a line with Tally. We had become friends. She would nicker when I drove into work in the morning and would leave her feed to say "Hi." It made me feel wonderful. It made me almost believe there was a way to reach any horse if a person had enough time, patience, education, and help.

There was only one problem. She was still terrified of every other person on the planet. She didn't want anything to do with men, women or kids. Nobody else could catch her. She barely tolerated my assistant grooming and saddling her. If I wasn't in the arena when Kathy got her ready there would be a huge ruckus.

When Tally blew it wasn't pretty. If she sucked back she would throw herself forward and crash into the tie wall. She had scrapes and scabs on her head, chest and legs most of the time from flailing against the wall, or a tie rail, or my trailer. She was starting to look like a horse tripping victim from the Mexican rodeo.

When the boss fed she would go to the far corner of the pen and wouldn't come up to eat until he had moved to the next group of horses.

"Why don't you keep her?" I was asked by more than one person."She only likes you. She'll never be OK for anybody else."

It was a lovely thought, but I couldn't afford her. I would have to sell Sonita in order to keep her and I couldn't go there. Plus I didn't believe in this one man horse nonsense. Sonita had tried the same thing and she was over it. Tally could learn to do the same.

I started working her hard and tying her up wet, foamy and tired. I'd let her stand by herself for a few hours and then Kathy would bring her a drink. We'd wait until the end of the day and I would put up every horse except Tally. Kathy would unsaddle her, groom her crusty coat, untangle her mane and turn her out.

She barely tolerated her at first, but as the days went by she began to appreciate Kathy's quiet, gentle touch. Tally's eye grew softer, her head stayed lower and her chin began to drop a few tense little wrinkles.

One morning I was running late. As I drove up to the barn I saw Tally was missing from her pen. Kathy's car was parked outside the indoor arena and I jumped out my car and blew through the door.

There stood my morning line-up, saddled and ready to go. Sonita, James and Tally. Kathy was sitting in a chair, holding a coffee mug, a big old Cheshire cat grin on her face.

"We've got time for a cup," she told me. "There's a fresh pot in the office."

I went and got myself some coffee and came out to sit next to Kathy. Sonita shook her head and stamped an impatient foot at James, he pinned his ears and swung his butt out of reach. Tally stood, mild eyed, and watched them bicker.

"How was she to catch?" I asked.

"It took me about five minutes, then she just relaxed and walked over to me. She's been perfect ever since!"

"Great," I told her. "Now it's time to see if you can ride her."

I felt guilty as I watched the Cheshire grin fade from Kathy's face.

Sometimes it really sucked being my assistant.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mouthy Monday

This comes from Jenny at http://www.mulemusings.com She's talking about the same type of things we've been the last few posts.

Plus, her mule, Maxine is just too cute.

I just read an article on spooking/trail riding in Horse Illustrated. It's very good.The trainer has an approach I haven't tried before, going back and forth to the spook spot until the horse is willing to go forward. Then once he goes through the scary place to pass back and forth through it until he's not afraid. I think this might be exactly what Candy girl wants to try. It would be safe, she wouldn't be overworking or scaring her young horse and could be a way to cope with both the bridge and the sheep...

Remember the Hula Hoop

Yesterday, I took a hula hoop out to the barn to see how Maxine would react to it. I got the idea last month while watching the Wind Rider Challenge at the NW Horse Fair and Expo in Albany.

It was hilarious to watch the horses react to the hula hoop. Some took it in stride, while others picked up their skirts and ran. Many horses entered the hoop quietly, but were spooked when the hoop popped up between their legs as a hoof stepped on the side.

The hula hoop they used had a rattle in it, so it sounded like a rattlesnake. Makes sense that many of the horses were spooked by it. No intelligent horse is going to ignore a rattler in the dirt, even if it is purple.

Always looking for something new and fun to try with Maxine, I bought my own hula hoop to see how she would react. Maxine wasn’t having it at first. Like the other horses, she stepped in the hoop just fine, but retreated when it rattled due to the nudge of a hoof. Knowing that she's usually okay with these kinds of things after she can "kill" them (it's the donkey half of her brain), I dragged the hoop with my foot so that she could walk behind and "hunt" it. After about ten minutes, she was walking quietly, albeit cautiously, through the hoop.

Once in the saddle, I again asked her to ride through the hoop. She wouldn’t have it. Moving back to square one, I stationed her nose on the hoop and kept her centered on the obstacle as she tried to move away. To a non-riding onlooker it probably looked like we were practicing dance moves.

That's when it hit me--"Hey, I'm actually good at this!"

I remembered my first trail show when Maxine refused nearly every obstacle. There were so few tools in my toolbox that if smart old Maxine decided something was unsafe, I didn't have a chance against her. The experienced wranglers at my barn seemed to get their animals through every challenge so easily. I envied their quiet, persuasive skills, wondering if I'd ever reach their level of experience.

Over the years, I've slowly added tools to my tool box, and yesterday was the first time I realized how far I've come in this regard. My arms and legs were each working independently and naturally to keep Maxine's nose centered on that obstacle. In less than five minutes, Maxine gave in and walked though the hoop. As a reward for both of us, we left the hoop for another day and took a long ride up the road with friends.

The interesting thing about riding is that each time we try a new discipline, obstacle, or skill, we often start from square one. It can be frustrating to be great one thing but terrible at another. I sometimes think I'll never master a new skill. From now on, when I get feel that frustration tingling on the back of my neck, I'll remember the hula hoop.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Spooking, Spinning, Flipping Out, But Not Off

I'm writing this based on the last post about spooking and such.

Candy Girl wrote about her solitary rides on her young horse. She has one tough spook-o-rama area to get through in order to reach the best trails.

Up until the last incident she has been able to urge him across the bridge with minimal fuss, but he is always worried about it.

I am always concerned when it comes to offering advice to a horse and rider I don't personally know,especially when there is a potential train wreck in the picture.

I have no visuals to guide me, so I can't suggest working the tar out of a horse until he crosses the bridge.This is a disciplinary action I would only use for a refusal, not on a horse who is terrified.

The first question I would want answered, did the colt have a valid point?

I've written about an above and beyond spook from Pete, a bay gelding I was training.This horse was known to spook when he was out by himself, but the day he really fell apart was a day we were being stalked by a mountain lion.I trusted his judgement and we made it home together and in one piece.

Was something terribly wrong that day and while the colt heard, smelled, saw, felt whatever it was, could Candygirl have missed it?

The next question I need an answer to is where is the rider the safest?

On the horse's back or on the ground?

If I am on a horse that will feel free to crawl up my back if I try to lead him I'm going to stay on board. I am pretty confidant in my seat and can often handle my problems from the saddle.

If I'm on a young horse that I have trained on the ground, then I have no issue with leading him if it will build confidence.I have found it takes a while for young horses to trust their rider's leadership, even if they are trusting on the ground. I mean, we're behind them on their back, pushing them forward. On the ground we're in front taking charge. I have always thought you need to build confidence twice, once on the ground and again from their back.

If I decided to stay on Candygirl's colt then I would ride him forward until he quit on his own. Then I would bump him forward steadily with both legs until I got a single step forward.

My reins would be loose except to keep him looking straight at the bridge, so he can go forward, but I'll get after him for trying to leave.

If he starts backing I'll keep my reins loose and kick pretty hard until he quits.If I think he might rear I'll work his haunches, kick him to the left, then the right, all the while making him look at the bridge.If he's throwing his head I'll do the same.

Eventually I'm going to get my step and then we'll sit and rest. He has to keep looking at the bridge and I'm not, I mean not, going to tell him he's good. Because he's not. I'm just going to let him breathe. Then we go again.

How much am I going to ask for? Depends on the day, how much time I have and the mindset of the horse. But we will come back to the same place over and over, day after day until he crosses the stinking bridge.

My primary goals are to keep him looking at the bridge.
Keep my reins loose but don't let him turn left or right.
Keep his haunches moving.
Rest after each forward try, but not before.

If this was a horse I was leading then I would give the horse plenty of slack in the rope or reins so he is actually following me not getting towed.If he locked up I would work his hindquarters and get him moving forward. I prefer not to have them go around me, because that can turn into quite the evasion too.

I'll send them right and left and only pause when we're all looking at the bridge.

One of the best things Candygirl can do is to simulate this situation at home. Get a large piece of plywood and get him to walk and stand on it.Drag out a tarp and get him walking on that.

I don't think work like this is desensitizing, because I'm not saying the horse needs to wear the tarp or eat off the board.When you work up a consistent set of cues and end up getting him to handle the plywood and tarp he'll know he's alright as long as he listens to you. This will go a long way toward keeping you both safe when you have to insist he listen in a scary situation on the trail.

Kate was talking about the purpose of free longing.I agree with her and don't do it. I will give a stalled horse turn out to run off some steam, but I don't participate. I undo their halter and walk away before they run. I don't think my horses should play when I'm in the arena and I don't want them to kick at me, so I don't chase them.

When my horses are young I either longe or round pen them before I ride. I quit as soon as I can.By paying close attention I can tell when they have their brain turned on and we go ahead with our workout. It never fails, eventually they will just look at me like, "Really? Do we need to do this stupid round pen stuff?"

I almost always agree and that's the end of it From then on I just saddle up and ride.

The joining up process is really magical. I love the feeling I get when a horse clicks with me and follows me around. But it's such a minor part of training I can't justify spending too much time with it.

There's a young woman at my barn who has a cute little paint. She spends half her life dinking with that mare in the round pen. The mare is so bored she goes through her drills with her nostrils wrinkled and her ears pinned.She is dull and plodding and extremely sullen.I've been watching this for a year. The horse was bright and engaged when they started but I think she's just about fried.

The horse still doesn't know here leads (neither does the owner) and moves at a slow dragging pace everywhere they go. The worse she gets the more this girl round pens her.

I want to ride, not teach my horse to walk at heel. The thing is, the manners, the bond, the excitement and sense of accomplishment from a thrilling ride, they come with time, patience and always looking ahead.

I do have a bright spot. I took the willful Madonna out on the trail. We had a lovely, no seriously, time. She only whinnied twice. No half passing, head shaking or major blow ups. I kept it short, she kept it together and we went back to the arena and worked until she was completely calm. So hang in there guys, miracles happen.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mouthy Mondays

Today's tale is from "Ellie." Not only did this story knock my socks off emotionally, but it's beautifully written. And if I'm doing my math right, this young woman can't be more than 16.

I'm running low on stories folks...get those pens out. If you sent me one and haven't seen it yet, resend and feel free to call me a name or two. I can take it.

The Singing-Horse

The little red horse at my lesson barn didn't have a name yet - not one that we knew, anyway - or so I was told. She'd been dropped off from by a friend of my instructor and would remain at our barn on trial for two weeks while my family decided if she would be suitable. I was not to get emotionally attached. I was to be completely objective, or as objective as a 14-year-old girl getting her first horse can be, anyhow. That afternoon, as I leaned against the fence and watched the little mare flit around nervously in her pasture while the last dregs of warm autumn drained from the North Carolina air, I pretended that naming her wasn't really a big deal for me. But I'd always wanted to name a horse: just start from scratch, something totally original. We didn't have her breeding, history, anything - so it was all mine to decide. In what later turned out to be a cruelly ironic twist, I named her Some Like It Hot, barn name Summer.

Summer was pretty scruffy that day. Both mane and tail were snarled into dreadlocks - her mane was about a foot and a half long. She was unshod and her front hooves were so overgrown they curled up and cracked at the tips from being left in a stall for several months (she was given food and water, I think, but not much else). Her winter coat, just coming in, was frozen into stiff curls of sweat and dirt because she'd galloped around the pasture so much upon arriving. Big eyes, cute little head, built small and sturdy like a quarter horse even though she was an OTTB. After about an hour of just watching Summer get used to her (temporary) new home and chatting with my instructor, we left so she could have another day to just settle in. We were back the next day, of course; we washed the grime out of her coat and cut the worst of the tangles out of her mane. We also lunged her, something she'd never done before. I tried to seem like I wasn't completely in love with her with a small amount of success.

I can only describe the next four months in images that I fiercely committed to memory because not to do so would have been a crime.

Days spent grooming her in the barn because it was raining outside. I taught her to ground-tie and she was amazing at it, something that surprised me. Though my mom always found it funny that as soon as I disappeared around the corner, Summer would watch closely and fidget or try to follow me every time.

The day we found that "magic belly spot" that, when scratched, made her stretch out her head with the cutest expression.

My mom nicknaming her Mary Poppins because she was 'practically perfect in every way'.
The moment I realized that she was completely, head-to-toe, bright red - except for a streak of dark brown in her forelock. (I've only met a few truly solid chestnuts, and I've never met a horse with a streak like that.)

The way she would press her forehead into my chest while I combed my fingers through her forelock slowly or even just braided and un-braided it.

Chatting happily to my mom on the car ride home about how Summer and I had the same personality and ridiculously similar physical traits, too.

Being told by people that their first impression of me and Summer was that my connection to her was incredible.

A little girl's mom, at the barn to watch a lesson, smiling genuinely as I avidly described to her how I'd found my soul mate.

The incredible, perfect feeling of her canter stride when we went toward a jump.
Our first three-foot jump. Flight.

Shedding. I couldn't wait to see how sleek she'd look with her winter coat gone.
Sitting on her bareback in a halter while she grazed just because I loved the feeling of her back.

That amazing feeling right after a lesson where you and the horse both had a breakthrough.
Sitting on her back in the fading light of a spring evening, singing softly to myself.
Singing with my friends while we walked around in the pasture on our horses and goofed around. They said I was good. I've never thought I was good at singing.
Dreaming and planning and just knowing all the things we would do. There were too many to list.

Whispering 'hello, summer-bird' when I stepped into her cool stall.
The way she would stop eating her grain and stick her head out of the stall when she heard my voice coming down the barn aisle.

Talking to a girl at school about how my horse was my inter-species twin and how I was so glad to have found my soul mate. She didn't understand, not being a horsey person (actually, most of my horsey friends didn't understand either, because there was no way to describe it) but smiled and nodded anyway.

The feeling that maybe everything in my life could go right all at the same time simply because nothing could be wrong since I owned Summer, the most perfect horse in the world.

I should stop now. Luckily, I have many many more vivid, fleeting moments committed permanently to memory. There would be no way to put them all here. But it was only four months. One morning in April I asked my mom if she could drive me to school because I was running late and she told me to sit on the couch. I remember wondering if my grandmother had passed away, because this was obviously serious. In the back of my mind I was thinking forward to the ride I had planned for that afternoon. Then I sat numb for a few seconds as my mom stated simply that there had been a fire at the barn and that everything was gone. I still denied any real pain. Surely things had worked out okay somehow. I had Summer and that meant that nothing could go wrong. I could deal with whatever it was. "Everything?" I asked.


I think the events that happened in the month after that are just images now, too. An hour spent crying and all I could think was that I shouldn't go outside and scream because it would scare the neighbors. The firemen at what used to be the barn, still smoking even though the fire was put out around 4 a.m. A girl whose horse had been in a pasture, and was thus still alive, telling me she understood because all the horses were 'her babies'; me thinking that it was nice of her to say that but that she had no idea how devastated I was. Watching my instructor - a strong, independent woman - break down in her car (three of her horses were in the fire). Eating crackers and talking to the barn owner because it calmed me down. Watching a horse who'd been kept in a stall 24/7 all his life be in a pasture for the first time and running around happily. Returning the next day and realizing that the pastures were coated with yellow flowers. Coming my fingers through the piles of ashes and finding part of my tack box. Discovering my curry comb which still had Summer's hair in it and refusing my mom's suggestion to keep it, because seeing the singed red strands hurt far too much.
Planting a flower for Summer in my friend's garden while she planted a flower for her horse, too.

Crying myself to sleep every night for a month. Breaking the news to my best friend at school and feeling guilty because she was having a good day.
Flashbacks. So many flashbacks.
Going to other barns because I need riding the way I need oxygen. Leaving those barns feeling awful because being around horses that weren't mine just hurt.
Hating horses because they looked like Summer, or because they fidgeted when their owners walked away, or because they exhaled tenderly on my palm the way she used to.
Lying in my bed at night and crying because I could remember the exact rhythm and sound of her breathing.

I have always been an avid music lover, like many teenage girls. But for months after the fire, I hated listening to music. It all seemed so superficial and I couldn't connect to other people's emotions anymore. In school I would think, why are you getting upset that you have a test tomorrow? at least your soul-mate isn't dead.
Not singing for months. I couldn't even sing in the shower which is practically a ritual for me.

I found therapy in leaving town for two months over the summer and working at a family friend's barn in Virginia. The hard labor kept my mind off my grief and seeing all new people, barns, and horses kept me from having such frequent flashbacks. I found a new horse at the end of the summer and ended up buying her because I love riding her but we have very little emotional connection. I know that that sounds strange. But I don't particularly want to be in love with this horse like I was in love with Summer, because that would feel too much like demeaning what we had. I don't believe I'll ever have that again. You only get one soul-mate and once they're gone, that's it. I know it sounds stupid or silly because most people don't believe in soul-mates or if they do, they think about it as something romantic that you'd have with another human. I used to think that too. (Before I had Summer.)

So I brought this new horse home and kept up my riding. She's a cool horse, sort of like a business partner. She's not nuts about me and I don't spend every moment thinking about her like I did with Summer. And then, one fall night as I cooled her out after a ride, I realized I was humming for the first time in a very long time. A few days after that, I caught myself unintentionally singing during a ride. That was when I knew it would be okay. Everything would be okay.

Two weeks from today will be the one-year anniversary of Summer's death.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Who's Scared, Her or Me?

This was my horse page article for this past week. I might be slow, but I always get there eventually.

When the Boogy Man Comes To Stay
By Janet Huntington

When my yellow mare was a three-year-old she showed an early talent for cattle work equaled only by her foolishness. Silly and emotional, she had an inclination to whip into a spinning, bucking, twirly thing when she didn’t feel secure. My approach was to work her hard, try not to over-react and to keep exposing her to life’s up and downs. I figured she’d get her head on straight as time went on.

Unfortunately, my previously tried and true method wasn’t working like it normally did. She was getting bigger, stronger, more physically fit and much more athletic. Her spinning, bucking, twirly thing was getting harder to sit and she was getting a little more loft every time she went for it. If I’m being honest, I have to admit she was beginning to make me nervous.

One afternoon the boss and I had finished a good solid work out on buffalo. He opened the gate and followed the buffalo out to drive them back to their pen.

This was usually my job and my little filly decided to take offence. She hollered and launched into her routine. By the time my boss came back I was puffing, she was sweat soaked and we both were about to go at it again.

“What’s going on in here?” he asked.

“She’s losing her mind,” I told him.

“Then why are you still standing there letting her rest up! Get her to work. Make her work until the only thing she has on her mind is what you want and how fast she can get it done for you.” He shook his head the way he did when he was ready to throw his hands in the air and just give up on me. Then he left to change horses.

So we went to work. My bratty little horse still thought she should try to squeal and buck, but I kept increasing what I asked from her and demanding I get it, all at a pretty good clip.

When the boss came back with his next horse he told me to take my filly outside and work her alone.

“Don’t quit until all she wants to do is stand quiet with her head down and wait for you,” he snapped.

I sighed. Then I went out to do what I was told.

My nerves were zinging a little, but not enough to admit it to my boss. Our workout ended up being pretty intense. By the time I had her where she should be the boss had ridden through all his colts and I was three or four behind. But my filly was quiet. She was tired but not exhausted. She was respectful. She was calm.

“That’s how your horse needs to start her day,” my boss and mentor told me.

“Huh?” I replied. Nobody has ever accused me of being the sharpest tool in the shed.

“When she starts the day with the same attitude she ends with you’ll know you’re getting somewhere,” he explained.

This became my standard gauge for when my horses were ready to go. When they started the ride with the same relaxed demeanor they ended it with I knew they were on the right track.

These days my horse training gig is over and I’m riding my own for fun. I have also found myself dealing with my yellow mare sliding back into her old behavior.

She’s being a snorty, spooky little freak. Her anxiety is through the roof when I take her anywhere by herself but the arena. Even when she has a buddy, if she’s in the mood to cause a problem, it can get ugly.

She’s making me pretty irritable. I’m having to fight the urge to get angry. There’s no way she’s as scared as she’s acting. She knows better. Right?

Here’s the kicker. She doesn’t. My confident little show horse is fast becoming a neurotic wreck and it’s my fault. All mine.

I don’t ride her as often as I used to. I have changed what I ask from her. Instead of a regular routine of arena and cattle work we’ve been out on the trail, riding in groups and alone and working on maneuvers different from the reined work she knows so well. She became a little boogered. She also has become a little buddy sour. I’ve been letting it go.

Old me would have pushed her through this with a vengeance. She would have realized I wasn’t asking her to do something dangerous, there was nothing she needed to be afraid of and we would have gone on our merry way.

New me has become hesitant. Am I pushing her too hard? Am I expecting more than she could handle?

Old me expected results from every horse on every ride. I knew how much each horse could handle and expected 75% effort from them every day. I didn’t always get it and some days I got more, but I had a clear goal in mind.

New me might go play in the creek, work on strengthening or bending in the arena or just let her graze while I groom her.

I’ve been falling down on the job. I haven’t been expecting my horse to begin her day as calm as we end it. I can’t because I haven’t committed to riding her until she is completely calm.

In her horsey little brain this has translated to thinking her hissy fits have merit. If I take her home when she’s being a spooking fool she is going to think her spooking got her home. Before long the spooking will move from silliness to anxiety to outright fear. I wouldn’t take her home when she was scared if she wasn’t right, would I?

It’s the same with a horse who pitches a fit when he leaves his buddy. If I cave and only ride with the buddy he’s going to think there really is something to worry about. Because you would have made him go if there wasn’t. All of a sudden wanting to hang with his homies turns to real fear and then a real fight in no time.

This stuff can inch up on you, it certainly has me. The fix? Only take on what you have time to finish.

If I only have 20 minutes I’m going to lope some circles. Maybe somebody else will do some ground work or just groom, but try to make sure your horse is relaxed and well behaved before you put them up.

If I have the afternoon ahead of me, then I’ll go tackle the scary trail or riding over to work in the FRRC arena at Metcalf Park.

Get to your trainer if it’s more than you can handle, but make sure you get some instruction for yourself.

I also finally realized what my boss was really after on that afternoon. My little filly wasn’t the only one who needed to work through some issues. I was letting her nerves get to me. A few wet saddle blankets built my confidence as much as hers.

It’s not just my horse who can turn a silly spook into a serious spook and move on into fear. I can jump at the boogy man as well as anybody. Boo!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Mouthy Mondays

Here's a story from Barrelracer20x.I don't think I've posted this one yet....if I have let me know.Sometimes life works out just the way it's supposed too, even with our horses.

It had been five years since I'd been on a real barrel horse.

Sure, I'd ridden my ranch horse through the pattern a few times, trying to get him started but he was far from a finished barrel horse. He was coming along, loping the pattern when a friend of mine called.

"Lex, I have a horse you need." And so it started...it just so happened, I had a horse she needed! We agreed to meet up one day that week and take a look at each other's horses, just to get a feel for them.

The horse I had for her was one of the most athletic horses I'd ever had a leg across. He stood just over 15 hands, a stout palomino, weighed 1250 when he was in good shape. You might say he was a strapping lad! My dad bought him with the intentions of molding him into a tie down calf roping horse, mainly because of his sheer athleticism, he could run faster backwards than most horses could forwards. He was a tight twisted character, he needed to be rode everyday and at that point in my life I was lucky to ride twice a week. I knew I couldn't do him justice, and he'd been bouncing back and forth between trainers just so that he wouldn't sit in the pasture unridden. He wasn't the type that was the better for a little time off.

The horse she had for me sounded too good to be true--he was 8, a solid, finished 2D barrel horse. I had to admit that I may have drooled a little as she described him to me, I couldn't believe that I was going to have the chance at a sure enough barrel pony. I was nervous just thinking about it, and I hadn't ever been nervous by nature. I did feel good that I had been riding alot lately, that my timing and balance seemed to be like they should.

It was one of those hot, muggy June mornings, I could feel the sweat bonding my shirt to the back of my neck. My dad had gone and picked the yellow horse from his latest trainer, he'd done exceptionally well there. He'd been headed and heeled on, run calves and had some tied down off of him, and also started the barrel pattern. He was a natural at the roping end, and had really shown an interest in the barrels. I was already having trader's remorse and hadn't even seen the other horse yet--this yellow horse seemed to be just what I wanted, but in the back of my mind I knew better. He was too much horse for me, I simply didn't have the time to devote to him.

My stomach was knotted up, my palms felt like they were gushing. I watched my friend as she unloaded a handsome light blue horse out of her trailer, and I knew without even riding him that he was supposed to be mine. I walked over to him after she tied him to the trailer, and he appraised me with a big soft eye. He didn't seem too impressed, but continued to watch me as I brought my saddle over and threw a blanket across his back. I'd brought the only barrel racing bit that I still had; all of my others had been destroyed in a house fire four years before. He dropped his head as I slipped the bit in his mouth and eased the headstall over his ears, he mouthed the bit and licked his lips as I adjusted the headstall. He seemed so quiet and relaxed, I wondered to myself if he'd wake up enough to run!

I tightened my cinches, slipped bell boots and splint boots on, then stepped on him. He was night and day different from my cowboying horse, shorter strided but just as powerful. He walked calmly into the arena, head low and laid back. We lapped the arena at an easy walk to loosen up, then I asked him to pick up a trot and he happily obliged, stretching out as we circled the pen again. I slowed him to a walk, letting him catch his breath again. I bumped him with my feet, asking for a little more speed and a right lead. He didn't miss a beat, and stepped off easily into a big circle. He didn't have a reining horse stop, and didn't have the best reverse gear either, but the lack of both didn't bother me too much.

My heart had started to beat a little faster as we made our way to the bottom of the barrel pattern. His step quickened, he tossed his head a little. He knew the warm up was over, that I was about to let him loose on the pattern. He ran to the left barrel first, so I squeezed him into a trot as we veered left. My heart was throbbing in my chest, and I could feel his heart pounding between my knees as he extended from a trot to a quick canter. Keeping my hands as light as I could, I settled into my saddle and aimed for our first barrel. In two strides he went from a ground eating lope to a run. I'd had a crash course pep talk before hand, keep your hands light and drop your hand before you get to the barrel. Big pockets and sit DEEP.

I was scared to death. He wasn't running full out, but it was waaaaay faster than what I had in mind for my first trip through with him. I'd had 2 horses in my high school days that would duck the first barrel and run up the fence, so it took all the faith and courage I could muster to give him his head and then drop my hands. He buried up like a reiner, dragging his back end then pushing off so hard that I was behind the saddle as we lined out for the second barrel. Thank goodness I had a saddle horn, apparently my timing was not quite as acute as I had estimated it to be! Knowing what was coming, I gave him a little more pocket and was treated to the thrill of an amazing turn, that I managed to make my way out of IN the seat of my saddle, rather than behind it. The third was the same, a little choppy but not bad at all. I was hooked. He breezed back for home, my eyes watering from the speed. He slowed on his own as we approached the fence, and stopped easily when I asked him to.

My horse had worked well when he was put through his paces, we decided to trade straight across.
That was three years ago. The addition of the light blue horse to our little herd brought a change to the herd dynamic, and also brought in a personality like I'd never expected. To call him a clown was an understatement, just as calling him a fish out of water was. He'd been used on a few trail rides in the past, but never expected to be an out and out ranch horse as he was once he lived at our place. He's so laid back I let my kids ride him, but he's all business when it's his turn to go in the arena. A girl I watched grow up has been his jockey lately; we're expecting our 3rd baby this fall, so I'm literally letting someone else take his reins.
He loves his job, and I love him. There's a little part of me that balks each time I pour feed out in the evenings, a part of me that makes me a little teary eyed wishing that I was pouring his feed out. Then I get on FaceBook and watch the latest video of him and his 110 pound jockey tearing it up at a college rodeo, and I smile. Watching him run is almost as fun as running him myself......almost.