Wednesday, July 30, 2008

There is a WHAT in the barn???

Tonight, as usual, I was running late. A little work with the VLC swiftly determined that he was in a pissy, antsy, impatient mood. So I decided to torture him.

"Aha," I said, "This is a great night for a patience lesson!" I proceeded to double-halter him - one regular, one rope and tie him very carefully and solidly to a beam in the middle of the arena. "You, young man, can stand here and just deal with it while I ride the Lust of Your Life." I figured he'd paw and scream and have a hissy, and it'd be just as good for her - since I'd never ridden her with another horse in the arena and we're going to a show in less than a month - as it would be for him.

I brought Honey in and, surprisingly, after a few screams, he realized he wasn't breeding anything and he decided to stand quietly, cock a back leg and go to sleep. Wow. Okay, clearly this wasn't as big of a challenge for him as I was thinking. I groomed her and tacked her up and was about to get on when I noticed he had come awake and was staring intently at the parking lot. He hadn't moved. He hadn't made a noise. But he was clearly on the alert.

A second later, Honey saw whatever he did - or smelled it. Her reaction was a bit different. You Thoroughbred people will know exactly what I am talking about when I refer to the Great Thoroughbred Freak-Out. Every muscle in her body tensed at once. Her tail and head shot up, her neck arched. She snorted loud enough to be heard in Malaysia.

I stared at the parking lot but saw nothing.

"Come on, you silly mare. Let's just walk down there and look at whatever is so terrifying." I tugged on the reins. Nothing. She was planted. And then, she exploded - the complete, my-brains-have-fallen-out-my-ears Thoroughbred Freak-Out. She basically ran around me at the end of the reins at Mach 10, terrified out of her wits. In following her, I got to where I could see the corridor to the barn - and what was freaking her out.

It was a cow. Well, I later learned it was actually a bull but what did register is that it was black and fucking huge and would NOT shut the fuck up. It was doing that agitated cow noise that they do when they get separated from the other cows and are too damn stupid to find their way back.

"Moo! Moo! Moo!" went the cow.


I am a vegetarian, but at this moment, I understood completely why Mugwump feels their highest and best use is as a steak. I would certainly have sent this one on its way to becoming a steak without the slightest pang of guilt, if only I'd had a gun on me.

I now had a dilemma. I wanted to go chase the Bad Cow away from the barn. But I had a stallion tied in the arena and a mare who clearly could not be trusted to be tied up while I went cow chasing. Nor could I take her with me, as it required most of my attention to ensure I did not have a 15.3 hand mare in my lap. I will say that she quieted somewhat when I had my hand on her neck talking to her. She does trust humans not to steer her wrong. Well, to a point...

So I tried to call for help. I called my roommate Josie.

"Hello?" said Josie.

"Josie? OMG there is this BIG FUCKING BLACK COW loose down here in the barn and Honey is freaking out and I can't leave her. Can you come out and help me?"

Turned out Josie and my other roomie were in town having Thai food. They did however promise to call my landlord, the probable owner of said cow - but he wasn't home. Meanwhile the Bad Cow had moved to the barn aisle where it continued to moo. If you've never heard the sounds of very upset cow echoing off a very old aluminum sided barn, all I can say is that Honey was probably somewhat justified in her belief that it was a Thoroughbred Eating Demon.

I tried to keep her calm and hoped it would go away, which it finally did. When she had settled down, I tied her to the twine and went out to check on the status of the Bad Cow. I saw it heading down the neighbor's driveway. OK the coast was probably clear to proceed, and while there's nothing more that this chickenshit middle aged re-rider wanted to do more than untack both horses, go into the house and lay on the couch, I kicked myself in the ass and determined that I was going to at least ride the mare.

The Bad Cow was gone, but she knew it was somewhere. Honey has, except for the very first ride, always been very sensible with me. She's not a spooky horse but tonight? She was a freakin' idiot. I got on and we could not get past the opening to the corridor where Bad Cow had been standing. No way. She does, however, have a lovely rollback. Now I knew I was alone at home and I didn't want to get into a war, so we finally compromised that we would work in half of the arena but we would work. She was actually quite good, and at the end of our ride, Josie returned and managed to stand in the doorway and lure her back over. It took a while, but we got it done. I turned her and Clover out in the arena for the evening so hopefully by morning it will be the same old arena again and not the scary, scary place where a Bad Cow was.

By now I was beat so I longed the VLC, cleaned my stalls, filled my waters and trudged my half-dead ass into the house to write this post.

So here's what we learned tonight:

1. Thank you, VLC. I was almost on that mare when you noticed something was wrong outside. I appreciate the warning and you rock, even if you do have pissy, antsy three year old moments.

2. Karen, if you do not already possess a cow, please buy or borrow one. You are going to have to cow-break this mare or she's never going to be safe to trail ride. I'm not sure if it's all cows or just bulls, but boy, nobody would enjoy being on her the way she reacted! Maybe you can turn her out with a small, non-threatening steer or something.

3. Honey, I do appreciate that you tried really hard to get your brain back upon request even though you were very, very scared.

4. If there are any cows at the SAFE show, I am going to die.

5. The bull, I have learned "went missing" from the neighbors several days ago and my landlord saw it eating under his apple tree today. Farmers are an odd bunch. A reasonable person would tell everybody else that there was a 2,000 pound animal on the loose, walking, you know, in the middle of the fucking road where we drive. But no, never occurred to anyone to forewarn the rest of us...sheesh. I mean, I know we can't put up a Bad Cow Alert like we do the Amber Alerts, but pick up the darn phone already...

Monday, July 28, 2008

I love it when we're all on the same page!

I've mentioned Bessie before. Bessie is a ten year old AQHA mare with a baby at side by the VLC. She's now owned by a 12 year old who is eager to start riding her. We know Bessie has been ridden, but we don't know the extent of her training, so I'm trying to refresh her memories!

Last week I started saddling her up. I started with the hunt saddle, reasoning that the smaller and lighter choice is always the one to start with. The first thing I had to do was go back for a bigger girth. The 48" that fits the VLC wouldn't even begin to reach on Big Bessie. Fortunately I had a 56 that came with the saddle. Yup. That fit Big Bessie. Good grief!

Baby was highly interested in the saddle. Bessie ignored it and kept eating.

So, since that went well, next session we progressed on to longeing, which was far more exercise for me than the horse. Bessie just didn't see any reason at all to actually trot. That was way more work than she was interested in. (Pets tend to resemble their...trainers?) We got her going both directions but she showed very little motivation. Baby, however, showed a level of motivation similar to Smarty Jones, blasting around the paddock at mach 10 while her mother trotted sedately on the longe. (It's always so much fun working them with babies still on them. The best part is when you start riding and they cut you off continually!) If anybody has any brilliant tips for training a mare who's still got the baby on her, feel free to share!

I put a western saddle on her this time. She kept eating.

Tightened the cinch. She kept eating.

Put a bridle on her. She made faces like she'd never worn one, tried to go back to eating. I removed it and decided we'd tackle wearing a bit another day.

I snapped reins to her halter and got on her. She kept eating. This mare and I are going to get along just fine.

I have to post another pic. How pretty are they? I love this mare and the baby's better than the mother. Baby, however, is scared of the halter so we are now working on desensitizing her to the halter, ropes, etc. in preparation for halter breaking.

Honey and I are getting busy preparing for the SAFE show on August 23rd. I was originally going to have that be the VLC's debut but I am so busy with the horses who HAVE to get ridden right now (Honey and Bessie) that he has fallen by the wayside a bit. That's okay. We'll get to a show yet this year, but I'm going to let this show be Honey's day. It's more appropriate for her to go to a horse rescue's show anyway as she was a free cast-off from a breeding farm, not an expensive show prospect who was never in any jeopardy like the VLC. Friends watched me ride Honey last night and I got to show off how she halts from a trot and stands perfectly still with the reins pitched away. We've been working on that! Her neck-reining is also coming along super well. Karen, I need to get you some video. I actually have this coming Saturday off from work so I may prevail upon Josie to haul a few up to the local public arena for me so we can get some good video for a change, not to mention getting Honey out to a new location before the horseshow.

As for the VLC, we have introduced ground driving and I agree it is a great tool. It is hard to balk because you don't like wearing a bit when Mom is behind you and able to growl at your big shiny butt. He is getting better about it - it will just take time. While he is very quiet in most respects, once he has decided to be a drama queen about something, it takes time for him to get over it. The first challenge was the cinchiness - now he's over it. The second challenge was moving off while mounting - he's about 75% over that. The third was the feet, and he's on his way to being over that. Now we have the bit. Mind you, this horse NEVER bucks, spooks, or does anything really bad under saddle. He just occasionally says "nope, don't like that, gonna pout and have a hissy fit."

On another note, seeing someone else ground drive him made me want to make him into a pleasure driving horse. Man, he is so pretty. I know he's mine and I sound like a typical mom, but he really is that pretty! Again, hopefully I can get some pictures this weekend or better yet video. :-)

Josie also ground drove the SSG, who tried to pull the bolting off maneuver that way...and got shut down hard. What a wonderful teaching tool! She is going to keep up with that and try to get him back on track.

Meanwhile, Kyra put in some ground work on my naughty yearling, who is full of beans and can definitely use it. She loves him and has already taught him to pick up his feet perfectly - now they are working in the round pen and on leading without any pushy moments.

So that's my update. What's yours?

Oh, and I just have to post another picture of Bullwinkle because I loooove him. :-)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Too busy to blog!

I really am getting that busy and things show no sign of slowing down...but I'll try to be better!

The VLC had his first ride with a new person this past week! My friend's daughter Kyra , who is 14 but at least a half a foot taller than I will ever get, took him for a spin and he was really good. He just pulled the same stuff he's been pulling on me, which is trying to veer into the middle when going clockwise. But with me on the ground growling at him, that was quickly circumvented. She loved him, of course. It was great to get to watch him go! I rode him last night and he was just not going to circle left. Just didn't want to. Wanted to slam on the brakes and rubberneck. I picked up a whip for the first time. He was VERY surprised. It worked, but I got rid of it just as fast after accomplishing what I meant to accomplish. Josie said it was the first time she'd ever seen his eyes look anything but calm. That's okay. He will learn that we can do things the easy way or the way that stings!

Honey continues to live up to her sweet name. I was really impressed with her tonight. My roomies just brought home a darling new 3 year old filly from the same breeder Honey came from. Gracie needed someone kind and friendly to go out with, so we turned her and Honey loose in the arena to play. After about an hour or two, Josie brought Gracie in and Honey was, understandably, doing the herdbound TB thing...whinnying and trotting around by herself. I caught her, tied her up and groomed her. She was a little antsy but not bad. I didn't know what the ride was going to be like with her friend gone, but I was pleasantly surprised. She stood like a statue to be mounted and just rode great! As soon as I was on her, her focus returned. What a good, good mare. She ignored Gracie screaming in the barn, horse trailers coming into the driveway, etc. We are on the one-month countdown now to be ready for the SAFE benefit show. I think we are just doing walk trot (as we have not yet cantered, ha ha) but you never know. We'll see what we can accomplish in a month!

I moved some horses around today to get Bessie and her baby into a flat enough pasture to actually work Bessie, and not just sack her out and do walk-only ground work. They were terribly excited to be down near the other horses, and ran around like wild things. I wish I'd had a decent camera, but I snapped what I could with the phone. I can't get over what a nice baby Libby is (well, she IS the VLC's daughter!) I showed everybody tonight how I can pick up all four feet, loose in the field, without a bit of drama. Since they're owned by a 12 year old, mare and baby have had a lot of visitors and are just wonderful with everybody - horseperson or not. That baby is a social butterfly who rarely gets frightened. She is going to be such a joy to train one day! In the meantime, Mom still needs to progress so Bessie's goals for the next week include wearing a saddle and ground driving.

As for the other baby version of the VLC, I visited Bullwinkle on Friday and dewormed him and watched as he got all of his four feet picked up. He is equally friendly and SO DARN BIG. The picture below is with his 16.3 hand mother. He was born May 27th -- that baby is not even two months old yet! He has been sold to a blog reader, in case you missed that update, and I am telling her I want to see the Baby VLC blog for sure!

And YES, we are going to drag the Small Spotted Gelding back out of the field and ground drive HIS furry little butt...tomorrow for sure! He is not off the hook, it's just some of the other projects are a bit more time-sensitive, like Honey and Bessie who will go to their respective homes in a month.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Thoroughbred mind...and yes, they do have one!

Those of us who like Thoroughbreds tend to spend a lot of time arguing with people who don't over whether or not they are crazy. We point out that we can ride ours in halters with lead ropes and they follow us around like puppydogs. This does nothing to convince those other folks, who have determined they are all batshit psycho after seeing a Thoroughbred run around a show facility dragging the hook from the side of the horse trailer, a lawn chair and a hay net while 53 people tried to catch him and he successfully evaded them all.

The truth is, we're both right.

Thoroughbreds are my favorite breed. Have been for a long time. I grew up on Thoroughbreds; I learned to ride at a polo barn and was working polo ponies by the time I was in high school. They were smart and fun and had a lot of personality. If only I could have found high school boys with those qualities, I might not have ended up dating a 32 year old in my senior year. But I digress...

Honey is a perfect example of a typical Thoroughbred personality. When Honey first arrived here, she was snorty and silly and reactive. The first time I got on her, she was so light sided I couldn't touch her and she overreacted to everything. Her head was in the air and her feet barely touched the ground. It was easy to see how she could be an intimidating ride.

A few weeks later? She is a dead dog. I could ride her anywhere now in a halter, no problem. She doesn't spook. Nothing bothers her. She is easier than the VLC to ride, and that's saying something.

To me, this is a very familiar pattern. Thoroughbreds are sensitive beasts. They get somewhere new and their reaction to everything is OMG OMG OMG at first. They pick up the attitudes of other horses like a lightning rod - if another horse is upset, you can bet your Thoroughbred will have sympathy hysteria. Same goes for your attitude. If you are scared - they will be scared. Every time. After all, if you're scared there must be something to be scared about, right? A smart horse will react now and not get eaten by that mountain lion that apparently only his rider can see.

But once they adjust, which can take an hour or a month depending on the horse, the circumstances, etc. - they are fine. They are like Quarter Horses to ride, just a little more light-sided. The polo ponies are typically the easiest horses to ride in the world - you pitch their head away and they lope until you tell them not to - usually while you pony 2 or more horses off of them at the same time, and on a track not so different from the one they once raced on. It's pretty unusual to see a polo pony screwing around during exercising. They know enough to save their energy for the field.

So how do you survive the high phase? My best tactic has always been long trotting. Don't even try to make them walk. You will not win. They will just get more and more stupid and hyped up. Just let them trot, and let them trot as fast as their legs will carry them. Don't let them break into the canter, but let them trottrottrot as fast as they want. Put them into a big circle if you want to slow down a bit, but don't pull on them. (You'll never outpull an ex-racehorse but you may piss them off and teach them to leap or rear by trying) Trot, trot, trot. 20 minutes straight is not unusual to get the edge off. You wanted to be in better shape anyway, didn't you?

The high phase doesn't last. Give them a little time, a lot of turnout, lots of hay and no grain. You'll have a whole different horse in short order, and you may even change your mind about the breed in general!

(as opposed to some other breeds, cough cough cough Arabians, that you cannot freakin' tire out or wear down or get the edge off of no matter what you do!)

*ducks tomatoes from the Ay-rab people*

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

My two in one training project!

If you've read my stuff for any period of time, you know that I believe every broodmare should be broke to ride so that she can have a second career when her producing days are over. In Bessie's case, she was just sold to a 12 year old to start that second career at the age of 10. She's not old, nor are her producing days necessarily over, but she's put three nice fillies in a row on the ground in the past three years, and as far as I'm concerned, her job is done - an easy life of carrots and riding lies ahead of her!

We know Bessie is green broke but that's all the history we have. She was an auction purchase, four years ago. She is papered, so we know where she came from but have few details about her past life. She happens to be my mare Kit's daughter - they came through the sale together. Bessie arrived here on Friday and I let her and the baby settle in for a few days.

Last night, I went up and decided to put my Dr. Cook's bridle on Bessie and just do some basic groundwork. I led her around the field and worked on "ho." She barged past me a few times, and then caught on to what we were doing and was stopping on voice command within a few minutes. Backing up was a little harder - this is clearly not a maneuver you learn in Broodmare School - but she did it.

Then I "sacked her out" with a saddle pad. Threw it on her back, hung it on her head, all over her butt, threw it up in the air. Bessie never moved. So I sacked out the baby. Baby didn't care either. This is not at all a skittish baby. She has no real concerns about Fast Things, Flying Things or Crackling Things. You can touch her anywhere. She's ready to move on to halter breaking and picking up her feet.

I led Bessie up to the hay feeder and put her next to it. Bessie stood like a statue while I laid over her back, put my leg over her, etc. She was great. Tonight or tomorrow, when I have a helper, I'm going to get on her. I'm also going to get a halter on the baby and start working with her in earnest!
And yes, I finally rode my VLC. He knows Bessie is on the property and apparently remembers her. (Do they remember mares they've bred? They must.) So I turned him out in the arena and he just galloped like a fool and hung his head out the end doors and screamed, screamed, screamed at her. He never gets this excited over a mare, and I was kind of concerned it would affect him under saddle. Nope. He was fine. Never whinnied once under saddle and he even stood perfectly still twice for mounting last night (the second time because I dropped something). He was actually a little on the lazy side. He's started pulling an old trick again the last few rides - the attempt to veer into the middle without warning. I don't know if it's general pissyness because I'm riding with the bit (but with the reins loose - I'm still riding off of the halter reins) or he's just hot and doesn't want to work that hard or he's just bored because all we do is schlump around this dusty indoor arena and do figure 8's and circles. Well, not exactly unusual baby horse behavior. I just have to stay on my toes so I can counteract it before he gets off the wall in the first place. I definitely can't complain - one week off and he came back just as if I'd been riding all along. He seems like he'll be one of those horses where you can give him time off and hop back on and it's like he never had a break.
Tonight - more Honey and Bessie!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Making it look easy!

I had to laugh tonight. I got totally and completely shown up by a 14 year old.

I've talked before about how both of my boys - the yearling and the three year old - are royal PITA's about picking up their feet. The yearling was great when he was a weanling. Over the winter, he developed an attitude about it. I have a really bad back and the last thing I can do is hang on to the hoof of something that is (a) rearing (b) flying backward or (c) falling down. Therefore, they got away with it and I determined I was going to have to pay someone else to teach them to pick up their feet. And really, it wasn't just me. Josie tried it too and he was a brat for her. He was a brat for my farrier, who is built like a brick shithouse. He was just a naughty, rearing brat, no matter who tried to pick up his feet.

I was standing out watering today when the yearling came up. I thought, I should see if I can pick up his feet just for a second. I reached down and he picked up each of them nicely. Wow. I patted him and told him he was excellent. I thought I'd accomplished a major breakthrough until I found out that Kira, my friend's 14 year old, had been working with him. And now, well, he picks up his feet pretty much fine. Oh, he hopped a bit with her but she didn't let go and he decided to give up and eat cookies. Easy peasy. She seemed somewhat baffled at how the 40 year old semi-professional trainer in front of her and the big burly farrier had been so incapable of performing this task.

I told her that we are going to do videos of her picking up feet on difficult horses and market them a la Pat Parelli. She can be the child prodigy of the natural horsemanship set. I will sit back and collect my cut, and she can continue to pick the feet on my yellow colt - he seems to like her.

In other news, I have to say that if Miss Honey gets any quieter, she is going to be ready for the 10 and under walk-trot class. She is just doing so well. She is starting to develop a neck rein. She is backing up nicely with her head down. She walks and trots on a loose rein and nothing bothers her. My only concern is that I'm picking up a little ouchiness on her left back ankle, which has a big knot on it from the track. I think I just need to get out of the round pen, but in the heat it's hard to get motivated to ride in the dusty, hot indoor arena. Maybe I'll start taking an afternoon nap when I get home from work and riding in the late evening!

So the bay mare and filly from the last post are here now. Their new owners are the nicest people on earth, and both horses are loving their new life. This mare has only ever been a broodmare, and seems ecstatic about having a kid of her own to feed her cookies. She cannot believe her good fortune. Baby, meanwhile, is equally appreciative of the attention and has become so fond of the butt scratching that when her mother's feet were being trimmed this morning, she was "backing up the bus" and trying to scratch her booty on our farrier's booty! Too funny. Bessie's going to get her first ground work sesssion tomorrow evening. I'm sure Baby will watch with great amusement (and try to interfere to get scratches!).

I must ride that very large colt tomorrow, too...

Monday, July 7, 2008

Pets tend to resemble their owners!

One of my personal failings is that I'm just not that patient. I'm fine with horses, but with traffic, long lines, and people who cannot make up their minds, I have a pretty low boiling point. So it should come as no surprise that so does my VLC. I decided tonight that we were going to simply work on standing still by the mounting block. I wasn't going to get on. I tacked him up and free longed for a while and then we were just going to work on patiently standing still next to the block. Not fidgeting, not barging past, not backing up. Just standing there and being praised for standing there.


The VLC is like his owner. He doesn't want to F around, he wants to get out there and get working. He couldn't figure out why were screwing around just standing there. He got highly annoyed. First he tried to turn around and nibble on my feet on the block. I pulled his head straight. He barged forward. He backed up. He swung his hindquarters. I just kept bringing him back to stand and praising him when he did stand.

He decided I was an idiot and this was the stupidest thing ever. He even stomped his back feet a few times. I growled, he quit.

Finally, after at least 15 minutes, he gave out the long-suffering "God, my owner is a prize moron" sigh and stood still and relaxed. I got off the block, took him inside, put him away and detangled his tail while he finished his dinner. I am not sure whether or not he learned patience, but maybe we took a step in the right direction.

I also rode Honey tonight. The BTM continues to be just extremely good. She stood like a statue for mounting, was bending to the right better than ever before, and is really getting the hang of backing up now. We've started to work a little bit on neck reining. She is such a kind, cooperative mare and she just feels solid underneath you - you know? She is relaxed, even when she's fast - she's not a nervous Nelly at all.

We have some changes coming here. Lucy, the black mare from the Enumclaw sale, is heading off to Stephanie Korhel's barn for the intensive ground work she needs to get over her fears about humans. I think being in a busy training barn with lots of handling will be good for Lucy, who I suspect has sat in a field popping out babies with minimal handling for years now. Meanwhile, I have a new project coming in. Bessie, who is actually my old mare Kit's daughter, has been sold to a new owner and is coming in for 30 days' refresher training. She has also been just a broodie for years now with the exception of a few bareback rides last summer, but she isn't scared or spooky. It's pretty obvious nobody has ever been mean to Bessie. She thinks humans are creatures that supply alfalfa and horse cookies, and so does her month-old adorable bay filly (by the VLC, one of his two from before I owned him). I'm so excited that she's coming here and I'll get to play with the VLC's first daughter. Aren't they cute?

Finally, some more exciting news - the VLC's first colt, Bullwinkle, has been sold to a reader of the blog. He's out of a mare even bigger than the VLC, so I think he'll max out at 16.2 or bigger. His future will be dressage and trail riding, and he is heading to Idaho as soon as he is weaned this fall! I have strongly suggested that he get his own blog. :-)

What do you mean, we have to go back to work?

It's been a busy week with a lot of extracurricular activities going on (a work party, a couple trips back and forth trying to get some horses sold, etc.) and just a couple of nights where, after I got done with chores, I was too damn tired to ride.

I did brush all the old mares out one of those nights!

Anyway, last night it had officially been five days since I had ridden, which really isn't acceptable, so I finally had to kick myself in the butt and get going again. I decided to start with the boys and leave Honey for tonight. She just looked so happy out there eating her hay with her friends...and she gets extra credit as I dewormed everybody last night and she was one of the best ones. The VLC was also excellent as was the BGY. The COB, of course, that was a twenty minute fight while she tried desperately to bite me. COB, I am not asleep at the switch and I do know where and how to hold you so that you cannot bite me!

I rode the VLC while Josie did groundwork with the SSBG. I decided to put reins on the bit (the D-ring copper snaffle) and reins on the halter and ride with both and see how that went. He really doesn't object as much to the D-ring, though I still do want to try the french link happy mouth when I can borrow that. It actually went really well with very few silly faces or annoyed behaviors. He had some stubborn moments when he hit the end of the reins and balked, but we rode through them and all in all, it was pretty good. I rode with the bit reins longer, so the only time he had to feel the bit was when he bulged off the wall and had to be corrected. The SSBG was tied in the middle of the ring and he really would like to go in and visit with his friend. Sorry, VLC. No go.

I have to say that the VLC probably has one of the top 5 canters I have ever ridden, lifetime. He is so comfortable! Really, he doesn't have any of the green horse all-over-the-place canter thing going on. He doesn't like his right lead but will take it. He's very balanced around the corners even though the ring is narrow for a big horse like himself. I am dying for a larger, better ring to work in and will probably move him elsewhere in a few months to do that. It's just so hard to find a place that takes stallions, and will turn him out more than 15 minutes in a round pen. He's used to being out at least 12 hours a day. He'd go nuts if he were stall bound.

The SSBG started off pretty well and then got very, very stubborn about simple leading. As I pointed out to Josie, since the last time I just had her lead me on him, he is now going to refuse to lead in an attempt to get out of any further riding. He lost the battle, of course with some ground support from me after I got off the VLC. We found that one of Josie's surcingles fits him, so his ground driving training is going to begin shortly. I really am hoping my dressage rider friend will get her butt up here and give us some expert ground driving instruction...hint hint Princess Jess. :-)

My goal for tonight is another ride on Honey and then I am going to try to follow up Thursday night by riding her in the arena and not just the round pen. She's always very good but she's been soooo squirrely in the indoor in general (just when turned out or longed in there) that I'm a little leery about it. She seems to be one of those horses who prefers the outdoors, where she can see everything and there are no surprises - as opposed to the indoor where all of a sudden you see things come from behind doors, and there are skeeery pinpoints of sunlight coming through holes in the wall.

How was your weekend? I know a lot of you went to shows, so how did that go? My first show for the VLC, if all goes according to plan, is less than 2 months off now. He's going to have to learn to deal with the bit because I'm pretty sure he can't show in a halter!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Wonder if I could shrink the VLC in the dryer?

Kidding...kidding...sort of.

Okay, so I took my first cutting lesson last night and it was the most fun I've had on a horse since my polo days. Now I want a cutting horse. (We'll do pics next time, I promise)

I had forgotten how long it had been since I've been on a really broke horse. I mean, I am trying to think back and it is entirely possible I have not ridden a non-green horse since December 2006, the last time I ever rode my old polo pony Raquita. Since that time, I have ridden:

a) unbroke, start-from-scratch young horses
b) horses with 30-60 days on them
c) broodmares that only ever had 30-60 days on them...15 years ago
d) OTTB's
e) rescue horses with completely unknown histories, most of which appeared to be 30-60 days broke...10 years ago

Hmmm, okay, I think I went on a trail ride in May '07 on my friend's well broke Standardbred, but that is it! I've been riding nothing but greenies that are work to ride for a long time now. What a total pleasure it was to go out for this lesson and get on this lovely little bay overo paint mare who loped around on a dropped rein and slid to a halt every time I asked her to. I have to get her real name - apparently she's been to APHA World and everything. She is built like a tank, absolutely adorable (definitely meets my "breeding quality mare" standard), and really knows her job - but she's also a school horse and you could tell she was evaluating me.

The first test was the left lead. She said she would prefer to take the right lead. I think it took four tries but we got the left lead. She loped off, resigned. It took two tries the second time, and the third time she just gave up and did it.

The second test was plain old motivation. Kimmie is who they put all of the beginners on. I imagine this encompasses quite the range of riding skills. She is not going to hurt anybody, but she has also learned that working hard is probably optional. As I've mentioned before, I'm not typically a spur wearer. Before the lesson my friend who was taking me with her texted me.

Friend: Bring spurs
Me: I don't own spurs

Trainer Guy, the kind of guy who probably wears spurs to bed, kind of rolled his eyes at my lack of spurs.

"You can try it. I don't know if it's gonna work."

Hmph. I have been around the block a time or two and I do believe I can get something into 2nd gear without spurs. Well, in practice, he had a point. I did get Kimmie into gear but I could see where a little extra speed on the response would have been helpful. I will purchase spurs before next time.

For those of you who have not tried cutting, all I have to say is OMG SO MUCH FUN. Seriously. I leaned forward a little too far the very first turn, which I learned not to do because I caught my bra on the horn and snapped myself a good one. I sat up after that. My friend who was watching said she saw me "get it" after the first three turns, and then we just had a ball. The hardest thing for me was to stop parallel and wait and watch the cow...from polo, my instinct is to turn and take off on the fly, and you don't do that here. You stop parallel and you don't let the horse turn to face the cow. You sit and you stare down the cow and wait to see what he's going to do. And you'd better be ready when he moves. There's a reason they let you hang on to the horn in this - honestly even if you're a solid rider and used to doing rollbacks and working at speed, these horses are so quick that there's no way you'd stick with the force of the motion if you didn't steady yourself a bit.

Cows are interesting. I've never worked cattle before. I used to ride my mare around during team sorting and go wander around with the herd but that was it. They stop, and then they do one of two things. Either they try to change direction (that's when your horse does the left-to-right skiing motion you've all seen cutting horses do, to cut them off) or they just decide to run like hell, in which case you run like hell and stay at their shoulder. That part is kind of familiar since in polo, you run like hell and bump shoulder-to-shoulder, so I'm used to watching another animal and trying to match their speed. Sometimes the cow slows and you have to slow too. You really get tunnel vision - I would not have noticed if a bomb exploded adjacent the arena. I was so busy watching that cow.

A couple times one really got to running. I booted old Kimmie in the ribs and asked for more. She pinned her ears and thought about bucking but in the end she gave me more. I just loved her personality - she reminded me of the COB. I do have a soft spot for that kind of hard bitten working horse attitude. Even when we weren't out there practicing, if a cow came too close, Kimmie flattened her ears and gave him snake face. Now that's a horse who knows who she is. She's the predator. They're the prey. I'd never question that she was doing what she loved. It was obvious.

Did I have any fear at all about getting on a brand new horse and doing a brand new sport involving running like hell and turning faster than I've ever turned in my life? Absolutely zero. You know, she just felt solid from the start. I think this is how the VLC is going to be in a year and it's one of the things I'm happiest about with him. Even if he is too big to be a cutting horse. ;-)

Trainer Guy said I did good. I did not get the impression he is given to excess words or flattery, so I assume I did good. I am going to make this a regular thing if I can figure out how to pay for it. The price is actually really fair, $45 including the use of the horse, but an extra $45 in my budget (plus probably $25 in gas to get there and back) isn't always easy. I am already wondering if he will let me clean stalls...

So when was the last time you tried something totally new on a horse?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The spirit is willing but the body is toast!

Have you ever had one of those nights where you know you are just riding like shit?

It doesn't matter how well you ride, it can happen. Your balance is off. Your legs feel like noodles. You know you are leaning in funny ways. You don't feel secure. You know that if the horse decided to offload you, they could do it without breaking a sweat. You hope and pray they won't take advantage, and try to just get the horse worked without doing anything too complicated.

When I was younger, I only felt this way when I was sick. I particularly remember it from when I was riding with pneumonia. Now? Could happen at any time, and it definitely happened last night.

We started with the SSBG (sorry Josie but that's his name until he shows me he is not going to repeat his behavior!) and I decided it's definitely time to go to a bit with him. If you're going to slam your head to the ground pitching and rip the reins through my hand in a bitless or halter, then guess what, you're going to learn to carry a bit. Now.

He's not bad about the bit. I set him up and let him free longe in the round pen with the reins loosely knotted on the horn. He tested them and felt them out but he's not terribly resistant to them - he's normal for a green horse. Free longeing him is work. There are horses that will pretty much just go around while you stand in the middle and read your e-mail. He's not one of them. If I took my eyes off of him for even a second - he stopped. He was always looking for an opportunity to spin and go the Preferred Pony Direction, so I had to be on guard and positioned at his hip to counteract that. It was probably more work for me than it was for him!

We also did a lot of work on stopping, but stopping without a rider has never been his problem. He stops great when someone on the ground tells him ho. When you ask for it on his back, no matter how gently, his first instinct is to throw his nose up and resist. So I decided we needed ground support. We put a rope halter on over the bridle, I mounted up and we just worked on walking and stopping. If he wanted to walk through my request to stop, he got reminded with the halter that this wasn't an option. My whole focus with him for the next week or so is going to be all about installing brakes before we go any further. He was a good boy, although very distracted by all of the horses running in the fields - but that is the price you pay for using the round pen at twilight!

By now it was quarter to ten again (I know, I know, it's just I have all of these horses to feed and waters to fill before I can even think about riding, plus the phone kept ringing) and I needed to ride the VLC. As soon as I climbed on, I knew I was just...mush. I was past tired, my coordination level was zero, and I just couldn't quite pull it together the way I wanted to no matter what. I felt loose, I felt off balance and just not quite right. I hate that. But hey, it was the VLC, so he trotted around without any drama and everything was fine. I did have enough common sense to decide not to lope, and to work on something easy - stopping and immediately backing a few steps. He is figuring it out well, and is not resistant about backing. What a good boy! Josie makes fun of me because she can hear me when I'm in the arena in her aisle and I am always telling him he is the Best Colt in the World and Such a Good Boy. Well, he is!

To me, one of the primary indicators of a really good minded horse is what happened last night - the horse that does not take advantage when you're not riding your best. Believe me, the horse knows if you're off balance and weak. A good horse packs you around regardless. A dishonest horse goes, woo hoo, here's my chance to offload her! We've all ridden both and, at this point in my life, I want to ride the good minded ones.

A couple pictures tonight of Honey, the BTM! They are blurry because it was twilight when they were taken, not because she was moving that fast. (The trot pics, yeah, those are so blurry you can't even see them, ha ha!) These were from ride #2. Standard disclaimer applies, I am aware of my lack of a helmet and yes, I am riding in sneakers. Just think, you can use me as an example of how not to ride for your kids! :-)
I see why Karen misses her so much. She is a snuggly Honey Bunny and was all over me for petting this morning while I was out watering. Anybody would love to have her around, and she gets along with the other mares so well. She and Lucy were mutually grooming each other - I wish I'd have had my camera!