Monday, June 30, 2008

Love is in the air...

Or at least lust. Every mare on the property seemed to be in heat tonight and all of the boys had definitely noticed!

I started off with Honey. Honey was in raging heat and this had the side effect of rendering her obnoxiously herd bound. Oh my heavens, what was I thinking trying to take her away from her friends? She screamed and pranced and generally acted like a particularly rank youngster in the post parade.

"You are EIGHT YEARS OLD," I reminded her. "Walk like a lady!"

I put her in the round pen, where she bucked and farted and ran around while I finished my chores. She was still on the alert when I came out. You know that Thoroughbred mare mood where they are just ridiculously twitchy all over? Antsy, twitchy, peeing, pooping (how does that much poop come out of one horse? She just kept doing the nervous pooping tonight.) , couldn't stand. Got an elbow in the ribs more than once as I brushed her up and she forgot I was there and barged over. She didn't seem to notice.

(This mare would make a great polo pony. Truly. Karen, any interest in polo? 'Cause I'm telling you, that is Honey's niche. I can just see her bumping. Would not faze her a bit! )

Tacked her up and did a little work teaching the backup on the ground to start. She catches on really quickly. Then I let her trot around loose and do her signature move where she throws her head and neck all over like she is a real bad ass, had her canter a bit til I was sure the edge was off and then climbed on. She was really very good. I was expecting worse given her overall mood, but once on, she was about the same as usual. We continued to work on bending to the right (the left bend, unsurprisingly, is fine) and halting and backing a few steps. I saw the first hints of a really free back a time or two tonight, but she's still resistant. She will get it. She is just figuring it out.

I had started turning her toward the wall to start teaching the pivot last time and this time she really caught on and started doing a true rollback at the walk. I was really surprised and pleased and she got major petting and praise for that. This mare is so light on her feet when she wants to be. When we get the cues installed, she is going to be a sports car to ride. The other really nice thing about her is she has no problem at all walking on a loose, dropped rein. Sometimes that is a real challenge for OTTB's but this one gets that a loose rein means just relax and walk with your head low, and that is exactly what she does. What a good girl!

Hosed her off, put her back out with the girls (she still had enough energy that I had to growl at her to walk back to the other mares) and grabbed the VLC. I figured it would be a valuable learning experience as there were mares in heat behind another fence not ten feet from the round pen. Time to see if Mr. VLC can think with the upstairs head!

Tonight I just ended up doing ground work with him. I put a little different bit on him - a copper mouth D ring that's quite a bit thicker than the loose ring snaffle I was riding him in. He definitely preferred that and there was a lot less of the "OMG you are killing me" face. (I have a friend who is going to loan me her happy mouth french link so I am betting he will really like that!) I knotted the reins loosely to the horn so that the only time they made contact is when he tried to trot with his nose on the ground - his usual reaction to riding in a bit. I let him trot around and figure out that the only place his head couldn't be was lower than his knees.

I've mentioned before that our round pen is a little deep. Not dangerously so, but deep enough that it's a pretty good workout for them. He wanted to talk to the girls, truly he did, but after the second round, he realized he didn't have the wind to both whinny and trot, and Mean Mom was going to make him keep jogging. He gave up. He completely ignored them after that, and I mean, one of them was backed up butt first to the fenceline. What a good VLC! I'm guessing that pasture full of conveniently located slutty ex-broodmares is going to be one of the best training tools ever.

Ran out of time and energy and did not address the SSBG (new name. Now he's the Small Spotted Bucking Gelding) tonight but we'll get to that later this week. My hand's still healing up and I think I might want to have both of them in working order for the next ride!

Funniest part of the evening: I have been turning my ancient mare, Clover, out in the "hallway" between our two lines of pastures overnight so she can gum some grass and enjoy some freedom. Tonight, we heard major squealing coming from the direction of the "boy" pasture (mixed stallions and geldings). Josie thought a stallion was flirting with Clover, and headed off to check it out. Nope. It was her Appy gelding, and yes...he was in loooove. The two of them mooned at each other over the fence line for quite some time before she gave up and headed off in search of more grass. I am sure he was heartbroken.

Sorry about the lack of pictures. I know, it's become a boring blog. Going to try to get more soon!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Two out of three ain't bad...

Last night's report:

The Beautiful Thoroughbred Mare

Honey is doing really well. This was our third ride and she was just as quiet as ride #2. I think being out on three acres with three other horses is doing her a lot of good. She has buddied up with the Crabby Old Bat, which cracks me up as I didn't think the COB liked anyone - but she likes Honey. Honey is a good herd member - she gets along well with everybody. She has her Thoroughbred moments where she and Lucy gallop the length of the pasture. The two AQHA mares look on disdainfully with mouths full of grass, wondering why in the world those dumb Thoroughbreds are running when nothing is chasing them.

Last night we worked specifically on two things: backing up and starting the pivot. Honey has absolutely no back-up, not really surprising. That's not a maneuver they teach on the track. So we worked on halting and backing a step. She is resistant but not in a bad way. She's just figuring it out and every time she took a step back, even a small one, she got petted and allowed to move on. She really has no problem with "whoa." She stops and stands quietly on a dropped rein every time. I'm riding her in a D-ring copper snaffle that is on the fat side and I don't think she'll ever need anything more.

As I've mentioned before, she has a killer rollback loose, so we're going to use that and start teaching her to pivot. I did several directional changes where I just stopped her a little bit away from the wall and turned her toward the wall. She figured it out quickly and pivoted and stepped out of it, getting more petting and major praise. One thing I really like about Honey is that she's not overly reactive to leg. You can put some leg on her and she doesn't go, OMG, leg, must gallop. Some of them do!

Of course, we also just worked on bending, particularly to the right since we have absolutely no bend to the right (again, no surprise). Even loose in the round pen, she travels with her nose canted off to the outside and her inside shoulder dropped. I would like to see her get adjusted at some point - they all come off the track crooked and it doesn't necessarily fix itself with time. I had a horse adjusted years ago that must have been twenty, and his head-neck area was still crooked to the left from the track. She's not showing any pain behaviors when I do flex her to the right, though - it's just obvious that's a totally undeveloped side and this is a new experience.

The Very Large Colt

The night was a long one. I had friends stop by before I even got on Honey, so it was 10 PM by the time I got on the VLC. Honestly, at that point, I didn't want to work hard and he and I mutually agreed we were just going to do an exercise ride. In other words, trot and do figure 8's but not work hard on anything in particular - just cruise around. That's exactly what we did and he was absolutely perfect. I really appreciate how consistently good he is. I also really noticed tonight that my leg is tightening up from riding more. It feels good!

Goal for the next week is going to be to get back to bit-training him in earnest. I need to ground drive him, much though that bores me, and just work on getting him to accept wearing a bit and that it will not kill him. I got lazy the past few rides and went, F it, ride in a halter if it makes you happy. It does, but he's not going to be a trail horse and he just can't ride in a halter forever. (I do think it's kind of cool that I have an immense sized 3 year old colt that rides perfectly in a halter at a walk, trot and canter though!)

The Small Spotted Gelding

All right, now it was 10:30 and both Josie and I observed that the SSG had that look in his eye. You know, the "I just don't want to cooperate, F You" look. Still, I was dead set that I was going to get all of my horses worked. I knew I had something else to do Friday night and I was going to get these three horses worked that I had scheduled myself to work, no matter how late it was.

Mistake #1.

He was pissy about the girth (not normal for him) and just looked like he was going to be uncooperative, so I decided to play it safe and longe.

Pony trotted around just fine. No sign of any drama.

OK fine. Normally I ride him with a shorter set of snap on reins but they weren't in the arena and I was tired and I said, what the Hell, I'll just ride him with the long white ponybeater reins tonight.

Mistake #2

I've observed before that the SSG has a noodle neck and the ability to go in a direction his head is not facing. However, up to this point, I really did not think he would do anything worse than trot sideways around the arena with me. I hadn't quite figured out how to get the body to follow the noodle neck, but in the indoor I tend to think, well, hell, where are they going to go? I will just run their nose into the corner if I need to.

Mistake #3

I got on the SSG. And he...left. At a fast trot. I pulled his nose halfway around to my knee. He was still trotting, in the same direction he wanted to trot, and ignoring me. I tried to put his nose into the corner to stop and he just sidepassed his little self out of the corner at a fast clip and headed off down the wall. I said, ok fine you little shit, we'll just long trot 'til you get tired and then we'll long trot after that until you wish you could stop.

Mistake #4

The long trot disintegrated into the Pepe le Peu canter. You know the one I mean. Stiff legged, head in the air. He dove around the corner with a turn worthy of a barrel racer, stuck his pony nose down and started pitching. I think I stayed on for two of them. It was so dark in that end of the arena that Josie didn't even see what happened.

I landed fairly painlessly on my hip and side. My early training about rolling myself into a ball has never deserted me, and I'm thankful for that. What hurt like a bitch was my left hand. I'd been trying so hard to pull the pony nose back up that I rope-burned the living hell out of my fingers and the area between my thumb and forefinger. I jumped up, announced I was fine, but didn't feel like I could get back on as my left hand appeared to be on fire.

Which, very honestly, bugged the shit out of me. I should have gotten back on. He got worked - Josie soundly longed his little spotted ass - but I wanted to get back on, more for myself than anything else. I do however, despite the amazing lack of common sense shown by this entire incident, have enough sense not to get on a green pony that just bucked my ass off with one functioning hand. So I didn't.

Here's what I hope/think I learned:

1. If it's 10:30 at night and you know you're tired, and the pony is looking at you like F You, Lady, just longe. You are not being paid by the ride here, nor do you have to have him ready for the Olympics.

2. The pony does not like to be turned out in the arena all day and then worked when he has not had dinner yet and dinner is late and he had to listen to the other horses whinnying and being fed.

3. Failing to turn the pony and the VLC out to play together like they normally do before riding is just stupid. I don't care how late it is, if it's that late, then just don't ride. I am very lucky the VLC was kind enough not to buck my ass off too - that would have been three more hands' worth of fall and probably would have actually hurt.

4. Before you ride the green pony with the long, hanging to the knees ponybeater reins, you MIGHT want to LONGE in them first. I think he was spooked by the hanging, flapping white reins and I got exactly what I deserved for never giving him a chance to be desensitized to them before I just hopped on and rode like that.

5. You need to figure out how the hell to consistently stop the noodle-necked, hyperflexible pony. NOW.

6. Perhaps we have established that the pony should not be left for last with the assumption that he will be the easiest one of the bunch?

On the plus side:

1. I'm actually not stiff or sore. I'm fine. I'm shocked. I did load up on Advil before I went to bed but I'm still surprised the only thing that hurts is my hand.

2. I don't think I'm scared. I think I'll be fine about getting back on the pony.

3. I'm going to learn a lot from riding this one and it will save my ass in the future when I encounter his type again.

OK, anybody have any really good recommendations for some over the counter stuff that will make the rope burn on my hand feel better?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The tale of the Statue Filly

I said the other day I'd blog about this soon...

We were all talking about horses who just balk, grow roots and won't move. I had one of those to deal with last year. She was a three year old AQHA filly, by the same sire as the VLC and the BGY, a big sorrel with an adorable face. She had many of the same quirks - quiet to ride but antsy to mount and didn't like to pick up her feet. (Can that stuff be genetic? LOL.)

I met her in 2006 when she was a late 2 year old, and watched the Trainer Wannabe who was riding her at the time. She was doing all the typical low-end stock-breed training stuff to her, all the crap I hate - riding in these huge clanking spurs, riding her in a single twisted wire snaffle, popping her in the face every three seconds. Sure, the filly jogged, but she did it with her nose behind the vertical and her ass off the wall. Lovely. The filly would occasionally hop around, not surprising since she lived in a stall at a show facility and rarely got turned out. She got more snapping on the mouth for the hopping. Trainer Wannabe was probably 20 years old, blonde, hot, way thinner than I am and thought she was amazingly hot shit. I would just watch it and roll my eyes.

Filly finally got fed up with Trainer Wannabe. At a horseshow, she slammed on the brakes mid-lope and refused to go forward another step. Trainer Wannabe did not appreciate looking foolish. She threw the filly back in the stall and scratched the rest of her classes. There's some training for you! What do you suppose that taught?

Trainer Wannabe ended up quitting as she thought she was worth $50 a ride and nobody else did. At that point, my friend Jess (Princess Jess on the blog) and I decided to try to do something with Statue Filly. So one day we pulled her out. Boy, was she antsy. Just getting tack on was a major ordeal. We put her in a hunt saddle and a nice fat snaffle and of course no spurs. It was almost impossible to mount her. Antsy, antsy, all over the place. And of course, that barn was Grand Central Station and there wasn't really a quiet place to do anything. Jess admits she thought the filly was going to be a bronc to ride, based upon the mounting drama. She managed to get on her and...

Nothing happened. SF was practically catatonic under saddle. Jess could barely push her into a jog. SF however could back up for days. Prior to this experience, I did not know what a "spur stop" was. I'm primarily an English rider, though I have my share of Western ribbons from the days when I had that marvelous all-around gelding in the early 90s. I am pretty sure we did not have the "spur stop" back in those days, or if we did, I sure as heck wasn't exposed to it. I stop by squeezing with my thighs and pushing my seat down into the saddle. I cannot imagine the point of teaching them to stop from lower leg pressure - for god's sake, if that means stop, WHAT the HELL means GO? I am confused and if anybody wants to explain it to me, please do.

Anyway, apparently one of the things Trainer Wannabe had taught Statue Filly was the spur stop. Any leg pressure at all resulted in the brakes being applied. WTF? What do we do with that? Jess was baffled. I was baffled. We were overscheduled anyway and only got the SF worked once or twice that winter. She went home, got thrown out in the field and proceeded to sit and eat for five months. Then she needed to get sold, so I had to get on her and see how she'd ride her home farm, where there was not so much as a round pen. I was fairly convinced this was not a good idea, although she was substantially easier to mount than she'd been when she was at the show facility. Even in a field with loose horses adjacent her, she was the same ride. Catatonic. I got a bit of a slow jog. Long trot? Forget it. But hey, it was apparent she wasn't going to kill me, so I took her back to my house to ride for a while.

At first, she would just stop and refuse to go forward at all and we worked through the normal cures for that - tried to turn her out of it, etc. It kinda sorta worked. She really did just want to grow roots and stand there like a giant Sequoia. I escalated to using the pony-whacker reins on her and that did get her into gear, at least sometimes, although I kept thinking I was going to get a buck. I never did. She truly did not care how much leg or whip you lit into her with. She could stand there through anything. The only way I finally made some progress with her was by using Jess as a ground person - equipped with a longe whip. I worked on equating trot with cluck and kiss with canter, hoping that if the sides didn't work, voice commands would. Again, it sort of worked.

After about a month, we were getting through rides without any balking episodes. She was just so dead quiet and wonderful that if she didn't lock up, she was a total pleasure to ride. She ignored July 4th fireworks, which in my neighborhood sounded like the bombing of Iraq. She learned to neck rein in, like, one lesson. I even started riding her bridleless and she was perfect. She surely wasn't going to run off with you!

I moved her to my friend's hunter/jumper barn last fall and would go out and ride her on my lunch hour. Again, not a great turn-out situation and so the sourness returned. Sometimes she rode great. She loved doing ground poles and little x's. She was super happy if there was another horse in the arena and she could just follow. But alone in the arena, she'd still lock up. A whip could disengage her but it created a level of tension I wasn't happy with - the head came up, she'd trot around kind of looking at the whip and going slightly sideways. Still, progress was made - she was bending both directions, she was loping like a champ. She was doing killer one-step simple lead changes. I really wanted to fix the damn balking. I tried different things. One day I decided we were simply going to sit there 'til she got bored and wanted to move. Well, 20 minutes later we were still sitting there. *sigh*

In other ways, she was a superstar. Some Parelli person had a tarp and a bridge set up one day. Their horse was snorting and spooking and scrambling over it. Statue Filly walked up to it, sniffed once, and then quietly walked back and forth over the bridge and tarp however I wanted her to. She had never seen anything like that in her life.

She went home after about a month of that, and got sold almost immediately. Her current owner mostly just trail rides, something the SF is very happy with. They love her spookproof nature and her foolproof brakes. It is the right home - she is happy, they are happy, I'm sure she'll be there long term. But I'll always think of her as a failure because I never did fix the balking 100%...and I still don't know what the solution was. Was it just arena sourness that was created by the Trainer Wannabe and just couldn't be fixed? She never did balk as badly outdoors...but she did balk outdoors. I truly don't think we had a pain issue. The saddle fit and I've watched her longe a million times...never a sign of any unevenness to her gait. Never any pain behaviors like tail swishing or ear pinning.

She just grew roots, and what was the solution for that? (And yeah, I know at least 3 of you are going to pop up and say ground work...well, we did plenty of that. She was longed and ground driven and "encouraged" from the ground and it always worked fine to keep her moving forward, but if the ground person disappeared, she knew she could grow roots and that is exactly what she did.)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The cast of characters

It has been pointed out to me that this blog is getting confusing with all of the different horses, so I am going to provide a guide today to who's who. Bear in mind these are mostly crappy camera phone pictures, and are not intended to accurately represent how the horse looks!

First off, this is the Very Large Colt (VLC), so named because he had hit 16.2 in the hip by his 3rd birthday. He is still growing but I do think that 16.2 is where he's going to end at - I think the front end is just going to catch up now. He is a three year old AQHA colt. The eventual plan is for him to show as an AQHA working hunter, in two years. We will probably do some schooling shows and maybe he will even get out for some AQHA hunter under saddle in the meantime. I've also considered doing some Buckskin stuff because they do have shows not too far away. He is not currently breeding mares, but does have two foals on the ground this year, from prior to when I owned him. I am very fond of his colt Bullwinkle, who is out of a 16.3 mare, so if you are looking for something that is buckskin and will be huge, e-mail me.

This is the VLC:

And this is his VLC, Bullwinkle:

(So, for those of you who were concerned that I needed to do a "test breeding" with the VLC to see if he was worth keeping a stallion, it's already been done and in my never-humble-opinion, the outcome was good!)

Then there is training project #2, the Small Spotted Gelding (SSG), barn name Ditto. Ditto came into being three years ago when the neighbor's mustang stallion ran through his crappy fence and bred my roommate Josie's yearling filly. You would not think a yearling filly could get pregnant, but some months later it was discovered that was indeed what had happened and Ditto is the result - half mustang, half some kind of PMU draft cross. Ditto has had seven rides so far and is proving to be a naturally quiet personality who should be a great show pony for someone. He is just 13.3 hands.

Also by the VLC's sire, we have the Big Gold Yearling. He was orphaned at 4 days but made up for it quickly. I need to stick him again but I believe he's 15.2 in the hip right now. Josie is doing ground work with him in exchange for training on Ditto, and he is doing very well. I would kind of like to sell him, but am afraid to. He is kind of "for sale to someone I know, and am absolutely sure is not an asshat, with first right of refusal." I have a friend with a tall, leggy 14 year old daughter who really needs to buy him for her future show horse... ;-)
(Yes, it's a baby picture but he was just so freakin' cute...)

Karen V. from the blog brought me training project #3, the Beautiful Thoroughbred Mare (BTM), real name "Honey in the Money." Honey has 10x the energy of either of the boys, but she's already been raced so I don't have to break her from scratch and that's a little easier. Honey is a sweetheart and a pleasure to have around.

My other roommate, Stephanie, owns the Cute Spotted Stallion (CSS), registered name Sonny's Grand Scribble. She is breaking him out. He is also three, and if he were human, would be the guy whose wife has to nag him daily to get off the couch and do something. Western pleasure is going to come very easily to him!

I haven't talked about them prior to this on this blog, but I also have a collection of Useless Old Mares. They are retired broodmares or performance horses. They do not do anything except eat horse cookies, carrots and get lots of neck and wither scritches. The senior member of the collection is Clover, who is approximately 35, eats mush, and bosses everybody else around.

Then we have my 23 year old, Kit. Kit is the poster child for why you shouldn't overfeed your baby halter horses so much. Also for the fact that the entire Obvious Conclusion line, successful through they are, resemble dachshunds in length.

I have two twenty-two year olds. One is a to-die-for cute AQHYA Champion producer named Belle. It is a shame Belle never had a show career herself, as she's adorably cute, but smart enough to have conned several previous owners into believing she was not broke. (Comment from one: "Belle lets you ride her?") Belle is indeed broke (we even won the Trotting Barrels once, ha ha!) but at her age, she is also fairly broke-down so right now I am not making her do anything but eat. She is really good at that.

The other is the recently acquired Crabby Old Bat (COB) which I am sure I will have many stories about. The COB, despite her impressive performance career (points in 9 events) is actually best known for her infamous baby-stealing incident two years ago, detailed on various message boards. She has not adjusted to the fact that her producing years have passed her by, so she decided to steal a newborn from another mare. She literally bullied the other mare away from her foal and took it for herself. As soon as this was discovered, she was taken out of the mare pasture and the baby was returned to its rightful parent. The COB had major hysterics.
She was happy last year as we stuck the BGY with her after his mother died. If anybody in the PNW ever has an orphan, bring it to me. She'll be deliriously happy and she does a damn good job of teaching them manners.

Next, we have the Blind as a Bat mare, aka Sunline, acquired from CBER in a moment of complete idiocy at 3 AM when I still lived in Los Angeles. Sunline is on her last summer, as she is losing the remainder of her sight and is not dealing well with that, but she is turned out with her BFF Kit and doing fine for now. There is a special place in hell for whoever dumped this barely-sighted mare at a dealer's in Yakima. I would loooove to know who that is.

Finally, this is Lucy, the most recent auction rescue. Lucy is here for two more weeks and then is going out to be fostered by Stephanie - thank you, Stephanie! She is sweet and just needs more handling - she's obviously broke but a bit headshy and scared. We have so far accomplished teaching her to eat treats. :-) Lucy will be available for adoption when we have a little better idea of her training level.

So that is the herd. And I wonder why I am so tired all the time...ha ha. Actually, I cannot complain. Both the VLC and the SSG were positively angelic last night, good thing since I was moving horses from pasture to pasture and filling water tubs and somehow did not manage to start riding until 9:15 ...

Monday, June 23, 2008

You never can tell...

When I was younger, I didn't think anything about what a horse did when he or she was turned out. It never even occurred to me that wild acrobatics and running at light speed might translate into the same behaviors under saddle. I just assumed that they knew not to do that when they were ridden - and because I believed they wouldn't, they rarely did.

Well, you know, time passes and the age-related chickenshit syndrome (should we just name it ARCS?) kicks in. In the past month or so, I saw the Small Spotted Gelding do airs above the ground loose in the arena and the Beautiful Thoroughbred Mare run like hell and spook at everything when loose. In both cases, I was absolutely convinced they would do this to me under saddle. I was sure I needed to Be Prepared for Anything (!) with both of them. I was shopping for the stuff online that sticks your ass to the saddle, sure that I no longer had the seat to ride the acrobatics that surely were coming my way.

Of course, I was completely wrong.

As you all know by now, the SSG has been even quieter to break than the VLC, and that is saying something. Ride #7 tonight and he was trucking along at a nice even trot, both directions, even changed direction through the middle and past his MOM (the human one) without trying to stop and visit! Josie was working with the Big Gold Yearling, who was also excellent tonight. I am sure she will talk about it on her blog. Anyway, I ended up thinking about how I had been just sure that the SSG was going to be this quick little ball of fire under saddle - and now here I was, seven rides in, getting a damn good leg workout keeping him in 2nd gear.

(Which is a good thing. Lazy ponies that need leg sell better than quick little ponies that need tough little riders. No complaints here. My calves could use the workout.)

But the real surprise tonight was the BTM, Karen's mare Honey. I had been on Honey once before, in the indoor. She was snorty and spooky and walking at light speed. Josie observed that her turns were so quick, it looked like she was doing rollbacks. At the walk. I was pretty convinced this was what I had signed on for, so I was busy psyching myself up to just get out there and Ride Like I Used To...i.e. get on the hot potato and long-trot 'til the brain kicked in and hang on for any spooks, spins, or other maneuvers. Tonight, I came home from work fired up and ready to go. I got on her outside and...

She was dead quiet. Even kind of lazy.

Yes, apparently the BTM's issues are all about the skeeery indoor arena, with points of light coming through nail holes in the wall and various other questionable features. And really, should I be surprised? How many racehorses are ridden in an indoor arena? I'd kind of forgotten this fact, it's been so long since I've ridden a fairly "fresh" OTTB. In the outdoor round pen? She was fine. Fine. Totally quiet and cooperative. Walked and trotted both directions, halted and stood on a loose rein. Did not even spook when the Pony Princess bolted at warp speed (and being part draft, that is not done quietly) from behind the barn and past the round pen. I was so surprised that didn't spook her. We were all sitting there with our mouths hanging open going "I can't BELIEVE she didn't spook!"

Wow. Wow. Wow. And what a smooth and comfortable trot. I am going to really enjoy her, and here I was thinking she was going to be one of those that you get off every night thinking "Yay, another ride down and I lived!"

You know what's going to happen, of course. I'm going to get some horse in that I have to chase with a longe whip to get it to jog when it's loose in the arena and that is the one that is going to launch my ass!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Could I have your attention, please?

Tonight the Lust of the VLC's Life, Honey, was out in the paddock adjacent the arena. He saw her and did something he has never done under saddle before - whinny, raise his head and totally stop paying attention.

I turned him around and we did little serpentines down half of the arena until he was confused, dizzy, and had forgotten what he was looking at. Fortunately, he is three and has the attention span of a gnat. He was fine after that (and we loped a whole three times around the arena without breaking tonight! What a good boy.) But now is a good time to ask for some advice on this topic - what are your best tactics for getting your stallion to ignore mares while under saddle, even the ones he really likes?

We've already started riding with other geldings and stallions in the arena, and that has not been a problem at all. Is the next step to bring in a mare and make him deal with a mare tied in the middle? And what do you do when they do react inappropriately - i.e. whinny and lose focus? I used the same method I use on the ground, growled "NO TALKING" and turned his nose away from the cute mare, but I am thinking we need something more foolproof (and quiet) than that. So for those of you who have experience in this area, how do you desensitize your stallions to mares so that they can show and stand in the lineup like gentlemen, even with something like Honey the Hottie next to them and flirting? What has worked for you? The VLC is very sensitive to punishment, so I won't have to do much, but I want to be consistent and also clear about what he is being asked not to do.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

I love my horse, I love my horse, I love my horse!

Just had to say it. I am so fortunate. I am grateful every day to have this absolutely wonderful VLC that is just sensible and reasonable and sweet and wants to do the right things. He is the easiest personality I currently have to deal with in my life - horse or human. We're starting to lope now and it couldn't be easier. He's got this perfect little soft, smooth lope. He doesn't try to speed up. He has never tried to buck. He has absolutely no problem being collected even though he's totally green...he's not on his forehand, he's not leaning, he's just not doing anything wrong. It is mindblowing to me.

(I mentioned this in the comments, but the breeder is downsizing and the VLC's dam and his full sister - weanling buttermilk buckskin filly - need a home. The prices are right to a good home and terms are possible. Email me if you have an interest. The filly will be as nice as he is, guaranteed. I'd be happy to break out the mare if desired, n/c except board/feed.)

Now I have to work on the feet again. I admit I put it off. I get to the end of the evening, which is when I should do it - when he's been ridden and he's tired. But the end of the evening lately has been between 10 and 11 PM and I have to be up at 5 AM. I just haven't had the energy. No matter how motivated you are, we can all only run so fast and so far and I'm feeling it. Last night I meant to get four horses worked, and I got two. I am trying to get on that staggered schedule but some evenings I am just toast after doing chores and can't summon up the energy to ride. I was thinking back mournfully to the days when I used to ride 8-12 a day, no problem...and then I remembered, that was my job then. It wasn't that I had to go to work from 7 AM to 5 PM, and then do chores and start riding. Heck, most of that time, the horses were boarded or I worked for people who had barn help. I didn't have stalls to clean or hay to throw or buckets to dump and scrub. So it's not just that I'm double the age I was then - there really is more actual work to do. I need to stop beating myself up over my perceived lack of accomplishment. I am doing the best I can, and that's all I can do. I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels this way...we all need to stop trashing on ourselves for not being superhuman.

I did ride both the VLC and the Small Spotted Gelding last night. This was ride #6 for the SSG. He is funny. He started out really, really well but when I asked him to circle through the middle, he discovered he could grow roots.

SSG: Trot trot trot...balk
Me: *squeezes and clucks*
SSG: I'm ignoring can't maaaaake me
Me: *boot boot boot* *growl*
SSG: Ha, I am part draft, I didn't even feel that.
Me: (pulls pony nose to side, attempting to disengage shoulders and "unlock" rooted legs)
SSG: (turns pony nose perfectly around to touch my foot. Legs stay rooted. Torso does not even flex. Damn noodle necked pony.)
Me: Flexible little bastard, aren't you?
SSG: What are you going to do now? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
Me: (both legs out from sides) WHOMP
SSG: *oooof* OK fine, I'm going, I'm going

It took the installation of the SSG's mom at a crucial point in the circle to threaten his little pony butt from the ground to accomplish the perfect trotting circle before we quit. I believe next time we will be using the long cord reins with the little leather ponybeaters on the end so that I have some artillery.

This is a good time to mention that I hate spurs. I just hate them. The only thing I've ever ridden in them was my old show horse who would run out of steam and 4-beat if you didn't wear them to show in the heat. But that was different, as he was a highly trained horse and I never did more than squeeze his sides. I have never felt comfortable with the idea of installing points on my heels when I may need to use really obvious leg aids on a green horse. I prefer to whomp with a nice flat surface that isn't painful and just sends a message. I'll carry a whip, but honestly, my favorite are the long reins. You can use them as gently or as firmly as you wish - a lot of times all I do is swish them back to the butt to encourage forward motion. And they are convenient - always there without carrying something extra!

I think the SSG is doing fine. Honestly, I think he has just figured out that riding is something that is going to happen all the time and that it wasn't just a crazy idea Josie and I came up with when we were drunk - and now he is not so sure that he wants to work for a living. After all, for 3 years all he's done is ground work and be a big pet. But the nice thing is that he doesn't seem to have a buck or a spook, either, so he will make a great project pony for someone.

Tonight I really do intend to work with the TB mares. I need to get Lucy in a stall so she just gets handled more - she has so many symptoms of broodmareitis, where someone catches them once a year to breed and occasionally to do the feet on and other than that, they run wild like mustangs. Lucy needs someone to just pet on her - she doesn't know what treats are, she's scared you're going to do something mean to her. (If anybody in the Seattle area wants to just come and spend time and love on this poor mare, hit me up - she really needs it and I do not have the time. Or if you're a bit further but want to foster, better still. My feeling is that she needs a month of just being handled, ground work, loved on, groomed and learn about treats before we try to ride. If that's stuff that you love to do, let me know. She is fine with other horses and easy to handle except for being hard to catch.). Honey the Hottie (in more ways than one) needs to get worked as well. I just need to get my spine installed and give her a serious ride and find out if the stuff she does loose happens under saddle. With many horses, it doesn't, but you don't know until you try and I've been feeling tired and wimpy the last few days. She spooks at the pinpoints of sunlight coming into the indoor from holes in the wall. She spooks at the horses in the field. She spooks at things happening in the parking lot. She does great, big, twisting bucks when she's turned out. There's a 99% chance she will be fine under saddle, but I keep thinking about what a bad, bad time in my life this would be to get hurt - and wanting a nice pair of chaps or sticky breeches! Anybody got some medium size schooling chaps for sale or a small pair of Kerrits sit tights?

P.S. A special thank you to my reader Dana who set me up with this awesome, wonderful adjustable tree Wintec for the VLC. FINALLY, an english saddle that FITS him! It's actually broad enough for his broad shoulders and it's super comfortable to ride in. I am sure he is grateful and I know I am. You rock.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

I have to ride how many horses after work?

*shakes head in wonder* They seem to be multiplying. I need to get them staggered so it's like 2-3 one night and then the other, but I failed to do that this week owing to a strong need Tuesday night to feed the horses and then just go in the house and sit on my butt and do laundry. So that meant I had to get everybody worked last night. Allow me to note that I do not get home until 6:15 PM and have to be up and getting ready for work at 5 AM.

Abby is my roommate Stephanie's, a beautiful dark bay Thoroughbred mare acquired from one of those WTBA auctions. Stephanie points out that Abby went to the track, but she is surprised they bothered. Abby is not exactly rocket-fueled. She's been wanting me to get on her and see how she feels to me as she can feel something funky in the trot. So I started out last night with Abby, who is just one of those really easy Thoroughbreds. She doesn't mind if you put leg on her. She doesn't mind contact on her mouth. She is just a nice, big quiet mare that probably has some hock arthritis. She is better on soft footing and worse on hard footing, so that's my first thought. It's definitely in the back end, and we all know that hock arthritis in a 10 year old OTTB is not exactly unusual! Anyway, Abby was a nice one to start out with as she's just easy and sweet. I hadn't even looked up her pedigree before I rode, but now I did, and I am not surprised to see Mr. Prospector. I looooove Mr. Prospector horses. They all seem to be this level headed. It's one of my favorite TB lines. I see that her sire won $439K. I believe Abby sold for something like $300. I love the TB industry...

All right, one down! Lucy, the black TB mare saved from the Enumclaw auction two weeks ago, was ready to come out of quarantine and be assessed, so she was next. I was going to start with Honey, but I have to fill you in on the hazards of life on what we affectionately (sometimes not so affectionately) call the "Funny Farm."

Basically, I live on a very large acreage with many other people who rent there. Some of us rent in the several houses on the property, myself included, and then there is a cast of characters living in trailers. By this, I do not even mean singlewides designed for human use. I mean, things that you look at and go "Dude, a human lives there? Really?" One of those characters is a little old horse dealer/trail string running kinda guy I will just call the Gnome. He kind of reminds me of a gnome. He is short and old and fairly deaf and has hideously outdated ideas about horse care that scare the shit out of me. He told La Mexicana that she shouldn't have adopted Petersburg Knight because he was "broken." Okaaaaay...I try to just ignore him. Beggars (aka people who need to rent a place to live and bring their eight horses and four cats) cannot be choosers and you get what you get in terms of neighbors. However, sometimes he is hard to ignore. (As earlier referenced, he is the guy who occasionally leaves a jack donkey in a stock trailer in the parking lot to bray all night and scare the bejeesus out of the VLC)

Last night, the Gnome had decided to be productive, which is never good for me. Right as I was about to embark on the Potentially Wild Thoroughbred Riding, he felt the need to weld his truck bumper in the parking lot. Awesome. I looked at Honey, looked at Lucy, and decided to start with the older one.

Lucy, as Fugly blog readers know, came from the auction two weeks ago. A generous donor decided to bail out every single horse that was heading for Mexico. Last night, we had passed quarantine with no sign of illness, so it was time to bring Lucy down to the barn and evaluate her.

I caught her without too much trouble as I got her cornered (she is hard to catch, and the fact that she will not eat treats from your hand doesn't help much...we must work on treat training), brought her into the indoor and tacked her up. She was absolutely fine for that. No issues with tying or cinching or anything. Fine with bridling, which I had wondered about because she acts a little headshy – but I put her in a traditional browband bridle that I had to pull her ears through and she was just fine. She longed fine with tack on although you could tell it had been a while, but she definitely has had training after the track as she wasn’t totally confused about the idea.
I stood on the mounting block and did my usual green horse stuff. I leaned on her and tapped on the saddle and she stood like a statue. Then I tapped on her butt and she spooked and crowhopped. Um, okay. Now, odds are I could have gotten on her and she wouldn’t have done a thing – after all, I was not planning to sit on her butt. But as we have discussed here, I am 40 and chickenshit and can't afford to miss work. So I longed a bit more and pet her and put her away. We will put a few more days of ground work into this one and play it safe. I know she is broke, but I think it has been a very long time since she's been asked to do anything more than be a baby machine and that someone at some point has done really dumb/mean things to her. She just has these fear reactions, and I'm truly disturbed by the fact that this 14 year old horse will not eat out of my hand. I guess no one has ever been nice to her. We will have to change that! Maybe she can watch Honey eat treats and learn from that. Lots of people have been nice to Honey. Honey knows all about cookies.

All right. Welding still going on. Greeeeeat. Honey was high as a kite. I know I've said it before, but man is she fast. Our indoor arena has never seen that kind of speed before. I cannot imagine why she didn't make it on the track. She could go back now! She has legs of iron and LOVES to run run run run run. She and Lucy had a very good time bouncing all over the indoor together, but it failed to take even a little of the edge off. She is still in heat, pissy, swishy and high as a kite. You know, it was just one of those nights when I knew I wasn't 100% on my game and elected to do ground work with her instead - so we worked on bending and we worked on longeing. Now, this one you can tell has not received additional training after the track. She was baffled by the longeing idea, particularly to the right. I got her to do it but we will definitely be doing more work on that. Actually, kind of a productive evening with her because these are all things she needs to learn! Not everything has to be riding. I also had her stand tied while we worked with Lucy because she does need to learn patience. She doesn't pull back but she fidgets a lot. OK, fidget all you want...but you are going to stand there. At least until you untie yourself and walk off. Mares! Honey is another one - I do not really think there is any major bad behavior in there, but she is very fast, very hot, and I really would like chaps or those breeches you all keep telling me about or something to stick my ass on there a little better. This mare can turn inside out and I wasn't sure if I wanted to ride her past the amateur welding operation without a little more insurance that I was going to stay attached if she came unglued...

We also played a bit with my other roommate Josie's mare, aka the Pony Princess. The Pony Princess is not very tall but is quite broad, being an APHA/draft cross ex-PMU mare. She is green broke and very sensible but like most draft types is, um, not highly motivated. We all took turns taking the Princess for a spin. She is very comfortable but she really does not want to work too hard for a living. I got some semblance of a long trot out of her...ok well, a medium trot...and cannot imagine the amount of energy it would take on my part to get her to canter. OTOH, I bet she would be great for someone wanting to tone up their legs!

Then it was time to ride the VLC. I think it is really funny that I have a three year old, 16.2 hand stallion, and my first thought was "woo hoo, now I can get on the EASY one." But he is the easy one and tonight was no exception. We turned the boys out to play first - the VLC, the SSG (Small Spotted Gelding, for you newbies) and the CSS (Cute Spotted Stallion). They had a great time. The CSS has never been ridden with other horses in the arena, so we decided this was a good evening to introduce him to that experience. Stephanie got on him, I got on the VLC, and we made the SSG watch. We had an arena full of three year olds!
I realize I've never shown you a picture of the CSS, so here you go:

The boys were great. They both dealt very well with riding in the arena with another stallion that they had just been playing hard with each other minutes earlier. There was no whinnying, they both paid attention, and it really went well - further enforcing my long-held belief that stallions need to be turned out with the boys and play.

I continue to just not be able to say enough good things about my VLC. He is the best thing ever. He is so relaxing to ride. This is probably, what, two dozen rides along? He is fine. Almost nothing ever bothers him, he's smooth, he's comfortable, and he has air brakes. I just love this horse and there is no amount of money that will ever buy him from me.

All right, last up. Stephanie had never seen Ditto, aka the SSG, ridden, but she had heard all about how he never does anything wrong and is the easiest greenie ever. This was ride #6. I put the VLC away. We figured it would be a good learning experience for the SSG to ride alone in the arena.

What I did not realize is that the SSG is three years old and has never been alone. Never. Not anywhere.

He seemed more on edge than normal but I figured I'd just get on and he'd probably be fine. The first thing he did was get his tongue over the bit and have a head shaking fit. I got off and decided we were going to use some judgment and just take the bridle off and go back to the halter alone since he was clearly in a bit of a mood anyway, and why push things? I got back on and he left. Fortunately not too fast, but he did trot off and then displayed an amazing ability to sidepass. He was just not happy that he was alone, and was bound and determined to get to the end of the arena where he could look out over the fields at his long-lost (as of 10 minutes) friends. I was just as bound and determined to ensure he did not get there.

The VLC is a big galoot. He pretty much has to follow his nose. He is just not flexible enough not to at this point. The SSG, on the other hand, has noodle neck. He has no problem at all trotting left with his nose pointing to the right. I understand he inherited this ability from his mother who has a similar ability to sidepass in the direction she actually wants to go, despite any efforts on the part of her rider to accomplish a redirect.

Anyway, I was left with a noodle-necked pony barging to the right on a circle to the left at an amazingly fast clip, sideways. I tried to channel the nose between my hands while pushing with the outside leg. I am pleased to note that this strategy eventually worked even though I did have to actually boot the pony in the ribs a few times to accomplish the turn at the wall as squeezing did not seem to be a sufficient signal to reach the pony brain. I am further pleased to note he does not do airs above the ground when you boot him. Always a pleasant discovery.

(As we were doing this, the Gnome drove in and rattled around the parking lot. With a stagecoach on a trailer. Don't we all drive around with shit like that? Fortunately the SSG grew up here and is used to the parking lot resembling the Rose Parade. I was so glad I was not on one of the TB's when this happened!)

After a fair bit of resistance but no real dramatics, the SSG gave up and trotted reasonably decently both directions. So we quit and petted him. Hopefully this will give him confidence that he truly can survive being all alone in the skeery arena. And if not, don't you dressage people want a pony that can sidepass straight sideways? Never hit himself once, never stumbled. Talented little bugger! Could be worth a lot! *smiles*

All right, I am tired just having typed all of that. Hopefully tonight will be a calm, quiet evening...just planning on the TB girls tonight.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

And now for a little variety!

VLC = Easy, fairly lazy
SSG = Easy, really lazy
Beautiful Thoroughbred Mare = Not gonna be lazy at all. LOL!

I got home late last night and still got three horses ridden. Woo hoo me! (I didn't get back in the house until 10:45 and I'm swilling coffee now to stay awake, but hey, I was productive!)

First off, the VLC. Boy was he good tonight. I did turn him out with the SSG first and made sure they did some running as he's been feistier than normal on the ground lately. The BTM arrived a few days ago, and he is in love. He cannot have her, and this has been explained to him, but she is in heat and lives three stalls down so he moons over her and tries to whinny and put on a show for her when I lead him past. He is normally really good about ignoring mares - this one is just, apparently, super sexy. However, she has aborted her previous foals at 10 months due to placentitis, so her breeding career is officially over forever at age 8. Anyway, I turned the boys out and they played before we worked them. They are getting along great, which makes me very happy. Stallions need friends, but the VLC couldn't fit into the big stallion/gelding herd where I live because there's an APHA stallion that wants to eat him for lunch. And the VLC wants to eat his little brother, the BGY, for lunch, so they can't go out together. Fortunately, the SSG is the perfect match and they run around and have a great time together.

I was tired and I knew it, so I just had Josie hold everybody for mounting tonight. Better to wimp out than to be too slow on the reaction and have a stupid accident. Mounting remains the only difficult part of riding the VLC. Some days he's good, some days he's still very fidgety about it. Once I am up, it is easy from there on out. So last night I just had Josie hold him, up I went and off we went.

Well, last night he just did not put a foot wrong. He gave me the pretty, soft trot from the very beginning. We did a little bit of lope both directions and he was perfect. It is all so natural for him. He needs to tip his nose in a bit for the show ring, but other than that? The darn horse is practically ready to go. He goes naturally level with his neck, and I can't say enough excited things about what that lope is like to ride. I was saying last night that I've mostly ridden open show quality pleasure horses - the kind that want to drag themselves around by their forelegs. To show them, you glue your leg on them, drive with your seat and basically work your ass off to try to get some semblance of a pretty lope. My old Two Eyed Jack/Sugar Bars bred gelding was a fabulous show horse, but his natural gait was the four-beat. He was 15.3, built like a brick shithouse, and a lot of work to show. Positively exhausting, some days. Great trot, very hard to hold together at the lope. The VLC? Heck, he was born with that show ring lope. I've said before that I've never owned a horse this good - and now that I think about it, I do not think I have ever ridden a horse this good. Just amazing, the difference. Every day, I see more and more how much natural talent matters - and how rare it is. The same would go for anything. I'll bet in whatever discipline you ride, you've found that one horse to whom it just comes easy.

Those are the horses we need to breed more of. This is way more fun than trying to shove a square peg into a round hole, as I now realize I have done a lot of in the past. The Two Eyed Jack gelding was a wonderful show horse, but he'd probably have been much happier roping or something. He loved to run. I did let him run barrels and poles at the open shows for fun!

Moving on to the Small Spotted Gelding...good grief, this one makes the VLC look hard to break. He is SO EASY. Ride #5 and we walk on the wall both directions and trot both directions. No spook, no buck, no rubbernecking. Nothing. We hung a bit in his mouth tonight and he didn't care (see that, you silly VLC who thinks I am killing him?)The only thing that needs work is the "ho," but as Josie pointed out, that isn't something his previous ground work has focused on. He's learned all about moving forward and away from pressure and yielding his hindquarters, but "stop and glue your feet to the ground," not so much. So I have just employed one of my old OTTB tricks...I say ho twice (at the walk) and ask for it with seat and hands, and if he ignores me, I turn his nose into the wall. Of course that stops him, and then I pet him and tell him how good he is. He is catching on. He has a very different neck than the VLC - upright and almost like a gaited horse - so pulling on him is not such a good idea. I want him to stop off of seat so he doesn't pop his head. We are also continuing to work on bending, but I'm pleased to see he can and will relax and put his head down. I think that will continue to improve with work. I told Josie he'll be ready to make a sale video in two weeks, and I don't think I am exaggerating.

Finally, it was time to put a ride on the BTM, who arrived here Friday night. I believe the BTM went to the track but did not race (Karen, is that right?). She is eight years old, not going to be a broodmare, and needs to do something else. I turned her out in the arena to start. We always sit here going "wow, the VLC is soooo fast," because he likes to gallop in the indoor but...sheesh. The VLC is a turtle compared to this mare. This mare is FAST. FAST FAST FAST. Loves to run, and can throw some interesting looking bucks and twisty turns in the air into the mix as well.

Karen had warned me she was cinchy so we went slow with saddling. The only thing she did was look a little cranky when I went around and dropped the off side stirrup down after putting the saddle on her back. She was fine for the actual cinch, but I did go slow with it. (Well, I always do. Even on a non-cinchy horse, you don't want to just crank 'em up like you're tightening a corset. That annoys even the best tempered horse.)

I got on and could immediately tell there was a lot of horse there. A lot. This one is not going to be naturally slow, ha ha. She is going to be the type that needs a job and needs to be kept mentally busy to perform well. However - again, really can't complain. She was very forward at the walk but never tried to break into a trot, a pleasant surprise. I got her busy walking circles and figure 8's and she did very well, but she's going to be very different than the boys. She is naturally quick - very light on her feet. Would make a fabulous polo pony. Would be nothing to teach a rollback to. It did occur to me that if there is a spook here, it is going to be one hell of a spook and it would probably be best to invest in a pair of chaps! However, she didn't spook last night, or even look at anything funny, even though it was dark out and our arena is poorly lit. The tail was swishy but she is in raging heat so I assume that was most of it. She's probably a mare who is not very physically comfortable in heat, but if the worst she will do is swish her tail, I can't complain a bit. She is a big, strong mare, but she is kind and intelligent and I like her a lot. We'll just have to find something for her to do so she does not get bored and start looking for trouble!

That's the horse report for today. Off to get more coffee...

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Scary Places to Ride?

A new post is coming soon about the VLC with pictures and maybe even video, but in the meantime, here's a good thread for us...

What are the scariest places to ride? You know what I mean - not necessary a cliff with a drop off, but barns and show arenas that just seem designed to create accidents, with a million skeery things to spook and way too damn much going on?

I'm going to vote for the L.A. Equestrian Center. I used to work polo ponies for a guy who lived adjacent to LAEC and paid for riding privileges on the property. LAEC has, I don't know, probably six arenas and a track that goes all the way around the property, but the track isn't really soft enough to work horses on. You can walk on it, maybe trot a bit after a rain. We had to take horses all the way around to the back of the property on the track - which is adjacent the freeway, that was fun - then you pass around the back of the property where the horses can hear the other horses inside but not see them through the hedges and stuff. Oh, and you know what comes down the track every five seconds? Trail strings with out of control trail riders running up your horse's butt. And joggers with off-leash yappy little dogs running under your horses.

You enter through a narrow archway which has paddocks used for turnout lining the left side of it, so usually you enter with some stallkept psycho horse blasting around like he's on crack back and forth in a small paddock on your left. Usually more than one.

You then get to proceed to an arena to ride, and the place is Grand Central Station. Actually, Grand Central is probably quieter. Different things going on in every ring or - better yet - some organized event like the gay rodeo. You think I'm making this up? Ha. Either you've got cowboys in purple flounces or minis with carts or saddlebreds - you just never have a clue what you will encounter. It is like an equine Halloween House of Horrors, with weird shit everywhere, just waiting to jump out at you. And then they drag and water the rings every three seconds which is fine after your horse has adjusted to the idea of tractors spewing water fountains coming by without warning. So I am gonna vote for LAEC as my all time Least Favorite Place to Ride (particularly if you're a chickenshit re-rider!)

What's yours?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

I totally deserved it, and I didn't even get it!

Most of us who have been riding a long time have really gotten launched big-time a time or two - and we can all recall in vivid detail that second when we realized something had gone very wrong. We realize it was our own lack of attention that got us here as we feel ourselves come unglued from the tack, and wish we could undo that split second where we just weren't on our toes.

That should have happened to me tonight. I totally deserved it.

I've mentioned before that the VLC is antsy about mounting, but the last two rides, I've gotten him to stand still and even stay still after I was up. However, this is still kind of a crap shoot. I can get him to stop. I can remind him to stay stopped while I'm still on the mounting block. But he is a freakin' mountain, and I need to grab mane to get up, even with the block. I cannot independently use my rein hand as I am mounting. And you can't just have the reins tight, or he backs up. So I do my best to ensure he is actually stopped and looks like he is going to stay stopped before I put my foot in the stirrup.

We did have more activity than normal tonight. Josie started doing ground work with my yearling and he was basically farting all around objecting to her request that he not invade her personal space/mow her down like a bug. He is another VLC - 15 hands at 15 months and growing like a weed - and quite a bit hotter in temperament than the actual VLC as he is half Thoroughbred (same sire, though). Anyway, our deal is that I'll ride the SSG and she will do groundwork in exchange with the Big Gold Yearling (hereinafter "BGY"), so she started doing that and he actually did really well. I'm sure she'll blog about it...someday. ;-)

Anyway, I put my foot in the stirrup and it turns out I misjudged the longevity of the "whoa" state. I started to swing up and he ducked to the right and walked off and I lost my balance slightly backward and - WHAM - clocked him right in the ass with my right knee.

I knew the second I made contact that I deserved to bite the dust for that one. He did scoot forward and of course I responded in my usual way at these moments: by yelling "SHIT!" and doing a somewhat scrambled and panicked version of the one-rein stop.

He stopped. I was still up there. He was upset; after all, he'd just gotten kneed in the ass for no apparent reason. I had enough presence of mind to let him walk and start doing our usual bending warm-up circles to get refocused - but I really had thought I was going to get launched and so my knees were jelly and I felt shaky all over. Great.

It took him about 2 minutes to forget the entire incident and relax. I probably had to walk an extra 10 minutes. We can see which of us needs more training here, can't we now? Finally I decided if the horse was relaxed, I should be too and we proceeded with our ride. It was back to a sunny high 60s here and he's always better when it's warmer. I got really a nice trot both directions, not quick, reasonably consistent, etc. Since I had a witness around, I decided it was a good night to try out first deliberate canter. I came around the corner, kissed to him and gave him a little leg...and off he went! The first time he was on the wrong lead, so we broke down to the trot and then went back to it on the straightaway. That time he nailed it and I let him go around a little further. He even cantered around the short end. Wow, is he naturally round and collected. Then, haha, I wasn't paying attention since my mind was on OMG WE ARE LOPING and - insert appropriate sound effect - he quietly careened to the center of the arena to visit with the SSG who was tied up there.

Oops. Yes, we must actually ride the horse, and not just go, YAY WE CAN LOPE!

So I reversed direction and we did a little bit that way. He got his lead, we cantered down a long side and I said ho. He SLAMMED to a halt. I mean, you should have seen it. Even Josie said "Wow." One thing this horse has is a stop...a good thing when you are sixteen - f'ing - two. I still think that is ridiculously large. I know, you warmblood owners are laughing right now...Anyway, I couldn't have been more pleased. We walked and cooled out and then we switched the tack over to the SSG.

This was ride #4 for the SSG and we did two new things. First, mounting from the block. The first ride, I got on off a panel and the second and third rides, from the fence in the middle of our arena. The SSG, although he is quiet about nearly everything, is antsy about weight in one stirrup and so I wasn't pushing it. But hey, I had survived one near death experience already about mounting tonight, why not try again? I can't say he was thrilled with the more traditional mounting but he behaved and stood even though he was insecure. That is the mark of a nice-minded horse.

Our second new thing tonight was the trot. We were doing very well walking on the wall and circling (virtually no balking tonight - this little guy learns fast!) but he still would like to go over and crawl in his mom's lap. So I decided we would use this to our advantage. I told Josie to stand at one end of the arena, and I walked as far away as I could, circled back and gently asked for a trot. About halfway to Josie, I got it and what a great little trot this guy has! So smooth it's almost like a gaited horse. I let him stop and get petted and then we headed back to take another try. That was a bit more difficult as there were many distractions. First, he wanted to visit with the VLC and the BGY, who were tied up in the middle. Then, his favorite kitty was on the fence so he wanted to stop and snarfle all over her. It would have made for a funny video - SSG sidepassing toward the kitty and me commenting along lolcat lines "Nooooo. No can socialize with kitty. Riding now!" while bumping him with my legs and trying to maintain our forward motion past the kitty. The second try, he was asleep at the thing's for sure, he isn't going to run off with anybody. So we gave it a third shot and that time he trotted the length of the arena very nicely. We quit - I remembered Mugwump's blog about reward and so we quit. I got exactly what I set out to get and there just wasn't a single reason to continue further. What a great little pony - someone is just going to love the heck out of this guy!

All right, time for bed. Project #3 arrives tomorrow - a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful Thoroughbred mare named Honey in the Money who needs to further her education past what she learned at the track. I can't wait! And yes, there will be more pictures soon. I know I'm way behind with that, but here is a picture of the BGY (although he's much golder now, he wasn't all the way shed out when this was taken.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Time Management 101

Worthy of its own thread...

In the last post, the question was asked: "How do other people make time, schedule for, accomplish riding/training when working full-time, raising kids, etc.? "

I can't speak to having kids, but I do work two jobs. I work 7 to 5 Monday through Friday and 9 to 5 Saturday and Sunday with a thirty mile one way commute to each.

Here's my weekday:

5:00 AM - feed and pick stalls
5:30 AM - shower
6:15 AM - trudge into Starbucks, LOL
7:00 AM - 5:00 PM - work. Often involves running to the feed store on lunch.
6:15 PM - arrive home, change, trudge out to barn and begin feeding and picking stalls
7:00 PM - 9:00 PM is when I ride. Yes, we have a sort-of-lighted indoor.

I do not cook. I live off of Taco Bell when I'm poorer or premade stuff from Whole Foods when I am having a better money week. If traffic is bad, that means I'm in the barn until 10 PM.

Weekends are a repeat of the weekdays except I get to sleep in until 7 AM.

When I had a more high-powered job, in Los Angeles, I used to answer all of my e-mails as I was cooling out at the end of rides, on my Blackberry. While I am sure no safety expert would recommend this, it does work. You can also do that sort of thing as you're supervising a foot soaking, or holding horses for the farrier. (Just do not move to the PNW and drown your Blackberry in the horse pasture in the AM. I know from experience - they do not swim.)

I have always thought one of the most important things about actually getting the horses worked is not to lose your forward momentum. Do not try to go home first and then go to the barn - if you can, go straight from work or go at a set time every day no matter what. Trust me, once your butt makes contact with the couch it is going to take dynamite to get it off of there and out to the barn. That's any of us.

Past that I'd say: set a goal. For example, my goal with the VLC has been 3x a week and I have stuck to that. Get a calendar and make big red X's when you do it. Or give yourself a gold star for each horse ridden. Whatever works! You'll love it when you can look back on a month and see your progress. I don't care how old you are, you'll feel good when you see that line of stars!

Oh, I also seriously recommend Diet RockStar. I LIVE off of Diet RockStar. Diet RockStar should advertise here, because without their product, my schedule would not be possible! I am immune to caffeine, having ingested massive quantities of it from about age 8 onward, but Diet RockStar actually wakes me up.

What about the rest of you? How do you get your riding/training done amid the rest of your busy busy life?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

And the race is on...

So the VLC had two days off in a row, which does happen sometimes due to my schedule, general uncontrollable exhaustion on my part or - in the case of last night - high winds that made the loose piece of sheet metal whack repeatedly into the barn. We decided those were not optimum conditions for riding three year olds and gave them the night off.

Every time I give him two days off in a row, I regret it. It's not that he's bad. He's never been bad. But two days off and we're back to quick, quick, quick. Any trace of a soft, balanced trot is gone again and he wants to race. What he really wants to do is lope, I suppose, but I was all alone in the barn and I'm just not going to start doing that without witnesses, especially after reading all the stories from those of you who didn't get fireworks until you tried to move past the walk-trot stage!

As I've mentioned before, he really hates having his face pulled on, and I don't want to pull on his face since his naturally low headset is exactly what's desirable, so when he's quick I just open my inside rein and we do circles until he starts to slow down. So that's what we did. It's not that he didn't slow down, it just took a long time, LOL! He is getting fit and it is STILL cold here (well, mid 50s but heck, it's June, what kind of crap is that?). If only it would shoot back to 75, we really do have a nice trot in there somewhere.

I do know better than to complain about "too forward." Beats the alternative!

Someone tell me about the 100 degree heat you have to work horses in so that I'll appreciate the cold and wet PNW!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

One step back, two steps forward!

I think we're on ride #20 on the VLC. I am losing track!

The bad: I was trying, yet again, to pick his front feet. He didn't want to keep the left one up and started pawing with the right. OK, I figured I'd go around and grab the one that was up in the air anyway. When I tried to hang on to it, he cow-kicked at me. Um, not acceptable. Not in any universe. He got the good old-fashioned boot in the gut for that one. And no, I don't want to hear a word about that - it's exactly the punishment another horse in the pasture would have doled out. He understood completely that he had grievously erred.

I don't think he does it to be mean. He just doesn't get that this is not acceptable. I am admitting defeat on this issue. I'm too small and weak and every time he pulls his foot away from me, it hurts my lower back. I am going to need to pay a professional to train this horse to pick up his feet. I am not experienced using ropes and do not want to get hurt/get him hurt. I have a trainer in mind that I think could offer some very valuable assistance with this issue, and I'm going to see if there is any way I can set up a session with him this coming week.

The good: After our showdown about the feet, I was not in the mood to put up with Any More Shit, and he knew it. For the very first time, he stood stock still for mounting and even stood after I was up. He isn't stupid.

And he rode fine. Not quite as soft and pretty as the previous ride, but we did work on something new and he did well with it. Our arena is a converted old dairy barn and so there is a fence running down the middle of it (that cannot be removed as it is holding up the roof!). The arena is, my guess, 50 wide so half the arena is 25 wide. There are openings in the fence at the center and both ends, so we can do figure 8's and circles, but today was the first time I asked him to jog a circle within that confined 25 foot half of the arena. The first time he stalled out but then he caught on and actually did very well, both directions! He is a big horse so I give him a lot of credit for being able to catch on to maintaining his forward motion through a small circle like that.

We cooled out with the reins attached to the bit again, which is funny. As soon as he realizes the reins are attached...whomp, the head goes to the knees. And stays there, on a loose and flopping rein. He is ready for the World Show! Heck, he might actually be too low. It is not going to be hard to put a headset on this one, ha ha.

Then I did ride #3 on the SSG. This time we walked without assistance right from the start and he did fine. He still wants to be close to Josie, so we worked on circles around Josie. Of course he's super green and did stall out at points but I kept encouraging him to move forward and we got a pretty decent circle at the end. (We did determine that there's quite a nice natural sidepass on this one! Hey, I like horses who can move laterally. It's very useful in numerous ways.) He also did better with halts today - the previous ride, he would immediately snap his nose up and resist (and of course all I'm riding in is a halter so it's not like the poor darling was being abused, LOL!). Today he figured out that if you just stop when you're asked to, the reins go slack. Nifty! I think he's basically going to be an easy one but he does have a bit of a balk in him which doesn't really surprise me as he has it on the longe line, too. It's actually going to be easier to fix from on top of him. As Josie observed, she often wishes when longeing that she had an outside leg for help!

So - for the most part - an uneventful evening of greenie riding. As I've said before here, if the VLC throws something at me that I can't resolve myself, I'm not going to be shy about asking for help. He's riding fine but I am going to need some assistance to resolve the foot handling issues. Hey, at my age, I'd sure rather have that than a bucking or rearing habit!

How is the weekend going for the rest of you?