Wednesday, July 30, 2008
"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.
"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIIGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!" went Honey, running all around me.
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
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
Thursday, July 17, 2008
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
Saturday, July 12, 2008
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
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
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
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
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.