Monday, August 31, 2009

Long time no post!

I keep waiting to get GOOD pictures of him, but the ones in the indoor turn out blurry and we don't have an outdoor, so I'm just going to do an update post for now and pictures will come later. I have a lot of updates on all of the horses.

The VLC, who, it is true, is technically the VLS at this point, is doing very, very well. He has no problems with his headset and "gets" collection, but things like sidepassing have come hard for him because he's so big and not exactly catty, LOL. He gets kind of baffled at where his feet are and where they are supposed to be, and then he gets frustrated and would prefer to skip the whole thing, but he is learning! He remains calm, quiet and lovable and is a barn favorite. He'll go to his first schooling show soon, and I'll report back how that goes.

I cannot say enough how glad I am that I was super, super, super picky about trainers and only let him go to a barn where every horse looked happy. As a result, he is fresh, happy and has not developed any sour behaviors - and I am delighted. I have a horse who has learned to be round and learned to move laterally and hasn't learned to wring his tail, pin his ears or throw his head. Hooray!

Then there's the difference in my own riding. I have taken lessons on and off my entire riding career but I saw instruction as a second set of eyes - someone to pick on my equitation. I'd ridden with people who were fabulous riders but couldn't explain things enough to help me at all, and people who were not that great but could at least tune me up enough that I would go win an equitation class. And then of course I just exercised horses for years, didn't show, and didn't try to really progress in my riding - at my age, I figured I was good if I didn't slip any further. Well, I finally got that trainer who explains things well enough that I am actually improving. I'm kind of shocked. I kind of figured a lot of my riding flaws were there to stay, and I was stiff and old and set in my ways. Uh, no. A few lessons with her and I went back out and won an equitation class, something I haven't done in 15 years. Yeah, just a schooling show but still - I was excited! Now I'm starting to feel like I might really be able to ride like I used to. Wow.

So the next step - remember the Small Spotted Pony that offloaded me last year? Well, he is in training now and I'm going to take lessons on him just as soon as possible. May even show him at the end of October if he's ready. I am fired up - I'm going to win this one. The noodle-necked bucking pony will not triumph!

Some more updates - the Cute Spotted Stallion became a Cute Spotted Gelding and is riding great and out on lease to someone who may buy him. His buddy, Chaser, who I was working with this winter, went to training to get further along and got purchased before his 60 days were even up! His registered name is Sure to be Spotted and he will be at the Pinto shows next year.

The Drama pony is jumping and going to lessons and available for anybody in the PNW wanting a talented but quirky medium pony. E-mail Jessica if interested. I rode the Gossip pony in the SAFE show and she and I are taking lessons together with an eye to hitting some POA shows and she is also available for adoption (large pony, great to ride, challenging on the ground - you have to be the alpha). She is available through Pony Up Rescue. Class, the red pony I rode in last year's SAFE show, is still looking for a home - she showed again this year and even took 3rd in Hunter Hack! She is available through Cowgirl Spirit.

Bullwinkle is with Karen V. and the last time I saw him, he was over 15 hands. He is the spitting image of his sire. Karen still has Honey, who is a much loved pasture pet due to her old pelvis issues. Libby, the VLC's other oops baby from before I owned him, is growing up to be a beautiful girl and her mom, Bessie, has been enjoying the good life in one of those amazingly picturesque pastures. Lucy is the companion to a 17 hand dark bay Thoroughbred gelding and seems to be very much enjoying that job and relieved no one is trying to ride her. I still have the Crabby Old Bat, who is fat and happy, and Thai, who finally found her "perfect" herd - two llamas and a weanling. She just can't hack it with anything bigger or tougher. Thai got ridden quite a bit this summer and is quiet, easy and available for adoption. The Big Moving Horse I blogged about is fat, happy, and his owner decided to take some lessons on him and give mastering him another shot, which I'm really happy about as I think he's an awesome horse and they could be a great team with a little help.

The gelding who held his breath, unfortunately, turned out to have Wobblers and was put to sleep this summer. It was the right thing to do. The lack of balance explained his fear about picking up his feet, and he was never going to be comfortable enough to enjoy life.

The Moosealoosa got sold to a teenage girl who loves him and I am sure his fat is turning to muscle as we speak. My Big Gold Yearling, now a 2 year old (I must stop with these age-related names), was almost sold and then tore up a muck bucket with his forelegs and re-injured his radial nerve. So he is going out to sit and eat for the winter and we'll re-evaluate in the spring. He is over 16 hands already and looking to outgrow the VLC. Just hoping he comes sound so he can do something with his life!

So that's MY about yours?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What does it take for you to throw in the towel?

A couple of recent incidents with people I know have prompted me to ask this question, as I'm interested in your perspectives and experiences. When do you give up and pass along a horse (green OR trained) to someone more talented than yourself for that horse's own good? What sorts of behaviors cause you to throw in the towel and stop trying to get back on?

Or are you the person who says, hell no, I AM going to ride this horse - whether or not that means more than one trip to the E.R.?

For me, I
know I am no bronc rider. I will get back on if I get bucked off and am not hurt, but I will probably do some longeing first and try to wear down the horse to the point where the incident will not be repeated. If something got me off twice in a day, I'm pretty sure I'd be done getting back on and would absolutely pass that horse along to a trainer that I know has more of a velcro butt than I do. I think it's extremely bad news for a horse to succeed in offloading riders on a regular basis...every time your butt hits the dirt, they win and the behavior is reinforced. To me, it's really smart to just pay the money to stick someone on the horse that the horse cannot throw. Most horses will respond to that by giving up, and usually in surprisingly short order. The few that don't may really have a screw loose (or undiscovered pain - always, always, always look for pain first.)

There are other behaviors I'd be more likely to keep working with myself. Spooking, not usually a big deal. Bolting, hey, go back to the round pen and go back to basics and make sure you have a working whoa - bolting is often a sign of missed basic training - like with track horses who were never really broke, just learned to carry a rider and run. (Not true of all OTTB's - all trainers differ! Some trainers have them pretty well broke and transitioning them is a snap. I applaud those trainers!) Rearing is not something I like to deal with and if I can't find a source of pain (back, teeth?) that explains it, I'm likely to pass that horse along to someone else.

I will throw in the towel quicker at a public event like a show than I would at home. Let's face it, a crowded warm up ring is no place to resolve a serious problem. You're likely to interfere with other riders (which is rude and can cause someone else to have an accident) and you can't concentrate on your horse when there are other riders everywhere and you have to worry about not running into little kids on ponies.

I know horsepeople are split on this. Some will tell you that if you don't work through the problem AT the show, the horse learns he can misbehave at shows and get away with it. I
don't know if that's completely true. I do think that when you fail to punish misbehavior in the show ring the same way you would at home, they do figure that out, but I also think that you don't have the right to screw up everybody else's ride bronc-busting in a flat class (or getting tossed and having a loose, bolting horse getting other people tossed) and that the polite thing to do is come to the center and wait to be excused.

If you're in a dressage ring by yourself or jumping a course and you want to do your best to fix the behavior, knowing that the ribbons are already out of your reach, go for it and I applaud your guts! I don't know who the rider is in the picture, but they are doing a fabulous job on a hard bucker - their position is just exemplary. They may not win a ribbon, but they are going to win that round with their horse.

I can watch that halfpassgal video all day and just go, OMG, I wish I could stick like that and wish I had her courage. (If you've never seen it before, beautiful example of a rider sticking and then NOT freaking out and NOT changing their riding and NOT having a temper. She proceeds as though nothing bad happened. Ah, youth...)

Do you look down on a trainer for deciding to pass along a horse? I don't at all. I think that if you train professionally and that's what pays your bills, it's only intelligent to draw some lines about what you will and won't get on. After all, if you get seriously hurt, you are out of business. Also, I don't think the most talented trainer is necessarily the person who can stick like glue, and most horses don't need the person who can stick like glue. Those people do exist, for those horses who need it, and often it just takes a few weeks or a month before they can be passed back to the regular trainer or the owner with the problem resolved.

Have you sent a horse off to fix a specific problem that was a bit too much for you, whether that was a misbehavior or a "fine tuning" issue? Did it work? Was the problem cured or did the horse still display the problem with you even though the trainer did not have the problem? Were you able to regain your confidence with a horse who had scared you off by seeing the trainer succeed with him and then working with the trainer to learn how to ride through the problem? Or did you simply learn that the horse had your number and it was not going to be the right horse for you?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Welcome to the real world and real work!

Ignore the funny looking haircut - we are in the middle of teaching him to have his mane pulled, plus it likes to fall on both sides. I swear I'll have him looking normal eventually!

So, my very large son is at boarding school, AKA the trainer's, and is learning to work hard for a living (I hear he actually sweated today) and give to the bit and that he has to lead quietly for people who are not me. I am surprised to hear he is being a shit about the latter, but as my trainer says, she has seen him lead quietly for me so she KNOWS this is b.s. and she is doing all the same things I would to correct it.

I do remind myself that I have ridden lots of four year olds who still have their moments, under saddle and on the ground, and a little misbehavior is normal - it's just that this horse has had so little misbehavior that I am the one who is spoiled. I think of him as an old broke 12 year old and am terribly disappointed when he acts his age in any way. I am like that parent who has fits when their child gets a B+ instead of an A. ;-)

I am going to head out tomorrow and work him myself and see if he really is playing a game or if he's got a bad case of four-year-old-stallion spring fever. My trainer has trained and shown many stallions, so I trust her judgment. I know there are those who will be positively gleeful if he ends up getting cut and I'll tell you now - I don't care one way or the other. I'm not obsessed with the idea of this horse staying a stallion and if my trainer says to cut him, we'll cut him. If she says his behavior is normal and can be fixed, we'll work through it. She's the pro and her opinion is part of what I'm paying her for.

Meanwhile, the Big Gold Yearling, now a Big Gold Two Year Old, is being fitted up for sale at a friend's barn. I don't have time for two greenies and I feel like I've done my job in his life (raising him up from orphan-hood) and it is time for him to move on. My dressage rider friend drools over his short-backed build and beautiful shoulder and we both feel that his niche will be dressage/jumping. He is quiet enough to make a great amateur eventer - nothing spooks this guy. I will have pics as soon as he's completely shed out and we've convinced him that clipping his ears out will not kill him. I am looking for a home with someone who won't push him too young - he is 15.3 at 25 months and I think I can safely say he'll finish out around 16.2 so he definitely needs to finish growing before he is asked to carry weight. Fortunately, those people are more easily found in the sport horse world and he's the type to appeal to them.

Winter's finally over and my Crabby Old Bat and Thai, the old TB broodmare, are coming home soon to share a large pasture. Belle found herself a job - my friend who has boarded her this winter asked to keep her for the summer as she's proving to be a stabilizing influence on a more spirited mare, so she will stay where she is for now.

Now that I am done with the BIG mustang project (see the other blog!) I can get back to the SMALL mustang project. It should be warm enough soon to give baths and that is a big part of progressing with the two I've been working with. They are just too yucky with Washington state mud on their underbellies to clean it off without soap and water (they do not care for currying there, and currying isn't enough to do the job anyway), so I got them both longeing nicely and then couldn't move forward to carrying tack til they got all the way clean. I also need to rig up a high line in the arena to teach the scared one to tie so I'm going to try to get to that this week.

I have also started working with my friend's very sweet red dun overo stallion (he's been mentioned here before) again. I rode him for the first time this year last week and he was just perfect. As I've noted before, he's Sonny Dee Bar bred and while I just hated those horses 15 years ago, now I sing their praises. They don't go fast, but BOY are they safe and comfy. This guy makes the VLC look like a hot potato. I've also been doing ground work with my other friend's ex-stallion and he's learning to long-line beautifully and to wear a bit. He does not like the bit and does need more work on lowering his head for it - he is no fool and knows that despite only being about 15.1, he's still way taller than me when he puts his head up. I have been busy trying to convince him that the whole process is easier on both of us when he lowers his head. Note to self, buy some baby carrots. (And yes, I am grateful that the 16.2 one never went through a hard to bridle phase!)

So that's my update. I may hit some schooling shows on a rescued POA this year and am toying with fitting Thai up for the SAFE show if I can squeeze her into the work schedule and don't get too lazy about having to actually, you know, go out to the pasture and drag her in. (I confess! I'm SO much better about riding horses that are in stalls or paddocks near the barn! I know I'm not the only one...fess up!) I'd like to do it because I always promote the idea of retraining broodmares and now I have a completely sound 24 year old who could make a perfect example! I've ridden her once and she was so good. She is still out at Karen V's awaiting a ride home.

How are the rest of you doing? Got something to show this year? Still working? Still deciding if you are ready to take that step? Who has a new rescue they are working on?

For those of you are looking for your serious trail horse and don't have one lined up, I have to recommend Whiskey, who's a SAFE rescue. She has been in a foster home that has been using her for mountain trail rides and packing and it is TOTALLY her niche. She is super happy on the trails and not at all spooky. She is fit and ready to go and if you're in the Seattle or Portland area, you should definitely consider her! I have ALWAYS liked this mare and it is so cool to see her find her true calling thanks to her excellent foster home. It will be even cooler if she finds a permanent home. She has been on the kill buyer's lot twice and I want to know that she never has to fear that again.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Desensitizing - what's your theory?

We were just talking about how to cure horses of certain phobias. For example, the SSP is pretty sure plastic bags will kill him. Every night, he has to snort anew at the plastic bag I have been carrying his brushes around in. I have let him sniff it and thoroughly investigate it. He still thinks it has teeth and eats mustangs for lunch.

I was trained to believe that when they're scared of something, you put it in their environment and make them deal. I've effectively used methods like hanging polo mallets in the stall so that they have to bump them as they move around, hanging a running clippers next to their grain bucket so that they learn to ignore the noise, and so on. So my instinct with SSP was to tie a plastic bag to the door of his stall so that he could bump it and learn that the crackly noise wouldn't kill him. He has touched it with his nose and jumped back but he's not panicking or anything so I'm going to leave it there.

A friend of mine brought up that she'd only had success with this kind of thing if it was done so that the horse had more control. For example, that if the horse was brave and touched the scary item, scary item was removed. This, of course, involves human participation - you can't just leave the thing they don't like in their stall or pasture.

What do you think? I mean, we've all seen the concept of "making them deal with it" go bad - like the story of the horse that someone tied plastic milk jugs with rocks to, who jumped the round pen and headed down the highway. Like anything, you can go too far and use bad judgment, but normally I'm still a proponent of "making them deal with it." There are certain things, like being hosed off, that I can't imagine any other way to teach. Or having to deal with livestock - living next to a cow, donkey or llama is really the only way I can think of to teach a horse that they are no big deal. I used to know a barn that had a pasture right next to train tracks. It worked - their babies didn't blink at trains.

On a related note, do you believe that horses can get too desensitized to the point where they become dull and react to nothing, or is that your goal? I think it kind of depends on how you use them. I think a dull horse is the easiest horse to sell and the most likely horse to find a good home. But obviously that horse isn't going to be your star athlete in a lot of disciplines. I know many people who believe, for example, that spooky horses just have a prettier jump and there's probably some truth to that. They are not going to risk their hoofies touching a scary rail, that's for sure. Does your discipline favor the dull horse or the edgy athlete, and how does your training seek to create that?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The not-so-glamorous mustang challenge!

I'm guessing most of my readers know at least one well-intentioned person who has horses in need of training growing progressively older in their backyard. While they're not abusing the horses, and the horses are well-fed, no training is being accomplished - or poor training has resulted in the horses training the people. I recently agreed to help out someone like this. Yes, money was involved, and I've only agreed to do ground work.

The horses are mustangs and while I think that some are quite nice looking and good-moving, they have just been pets for their entire lives. They kinda sorta lead. They are mostly friendly and like sugar cubes. That's about it. So about two weeks ago, I started working with two of them.

The Good Mustang apparently had some ground work way back when, and he is not stupid. He seeks out human interaction and is interested in what you are doing. His past training consisted of being ponied on a trail ride without and then with a rider (he was good for that) and then one ride in the arena (he blew and hurt someone). So of course we are going back to square one and filling in the blanks.

He is the personality type that tests you, but he's quick to learn. The first time I had him out of his pen, he got tired of standing still and shoved me in the stomach with his nose. He got bopped in the nose once and there has not been one single repeat of that behavior so I've decided he's pretty smart. He already ties without incident, longes both directions, knows "ho" although he's a little lazy about it (drops to a walk rather than a halt - so we are working on a sharper response) and is generally doing very well. He started out extremely distractable - he would look at everything but me and had a most annoying habit of craning his neck to look at spooky things and barging his shoulder into me as though I was not there. He has been poked in the shoulder a lot with my elbow, and does seem to be improving steadily with work. He's actually a very good mover. Overall, I really like him. I think another week and he'll be ready to start wearing a bit and long-lining. I'm not really anticipating any major problems with this guy - I think his previous explosion was merely due to a lack of consistent ground work before riding was introduced. He was scared and he reacted as you'd expect.

Then there's the Spooky Sorrel Paint. Not quite as sharp and has no interest in humans. Every vibe I get from him says "throw me hay and leave me the F alone." Clearly much more unhandled than the other, this guy took a week of work in his pen before I felt comfortable bringing him out. He started out deathly terrified of having me stand on his off side. He would turn himself into a pretzel to try to keep me on the "safe" side but I persisted, doing annoying things like standing in his stall while he ate and brushing the "scary" side until he pretty much got over it. He is still very spooky of the ear on that side - wondering if someone has eared him in the past, though earing on the off side sounds odd. Usually if people do that, they do it on the near side and as a result the horse is spooky about the left ear.

SSP leads but doesn't back. Backing is completely new, so we're working on that. He also doesn't move away from pressure at all - he's not panicky but he's like a tree stump. "Over" means nothing in his world, so we have a lot of work to do.

I brought him into the arena yesterday and let him loose to play in a much bigger area than he normally has. He was fine about letting me catch him, which was a nice surprise. You longtime readers know that we have a converted barn with a solid fence in the middle of the arena so we usually tie horses to that for grooming and tacking. I knew he might not tie, so I just threw the lead over the fence and walked around to the other side. I held the rope wrapped around the side of one of the big beams so that if he moved out of the range of the lead, he'd feel resistance against the beam but he wasn't really tied. I just wanted to see what he'd do when faced with a little pressure on his head but I was holding him the whole time.

Well, I was glad I was on the other side of the fence as we got a performance worthy of the Royal Lippizan Stallions. It was interesting. He'd stand quietly and not even act scared, then all of a sudden - walking on his hind legs. And I mean, straight up, Hi-Ho Silver rear. I was holding him so I would give and take but not let go. He would settle and stand - again, not acting scared or shaky or white-eyed - just like he was contemplating his next move. And then suddenly - a rear with a huge leap through the air.

As I say, I was glad I was on the other side of the fence. I could give and take but there was a lot of solid wood keeping me out of hoof range. I wasn't bracing the lead against anything anymore - just moving with him but not letting go. He threw his fit, then settled, then another fit, then more settling. Finally he stood for a little longer than he had before and I pet him, unsnapped the lead and let him go. Amusingly, he stood right where he was "tied" until I left the arena.

I've dealt with these kind of theatrics before in a spoiled older horse (and worse - at least this guy isn't aggressive or charging me), but this is a little different as I know SSP simply never learned his A-B-C's in the first place. I'd like to rig something up to tie him from above as I think that's the least traumatic introduction to tying. I've been around long enough to remember the days when we tied them to a tree with one of those one-piece poly cow halters and let them fight, but I'd like to think we can teach tying a little less violently these days! So my new challenge is how to rig something up that works - something that won't break but has some give. Your suggestions are welcomed.

By the way, I'm not so sure it's as much about tying as it is about being away from his herd. I will bet I could tie him in his pen and he wouldn't care, but in the arena his whole focus is on getting out of the arena and back to his friends. If he's loose, he stands at the gate trying to dig a hole to freedom unless I flag him off. Did I mention he was gelded late? Yeah, that too. And he led like a lamb going back to his friends so, again, I think the herd-boundness is the main issue here.

So after the boys, it was a real pleasure to work with Sly. She is so smart! She long lines both in a circle and on the wall now. We just started doing it with a bit, so she's adapting to that and fussing a bit but that's to be expected. She's gotten so much less reactive to things and can do the most gorgeous little jog in the long-lines. She doesn't seem to care at all about the lines anymore. (Her owner reminded me that she had a bad accident and got her hind legs caught in New Zealand Wire fence years ago, so she really might have had a good excuse to be so scared of the long lines at first). I was really impressed with her last night since one of my landlord's cows was right up by the arena and the cow spooked at her, and while she spooked, she did it in place - she didn't really go anywhere. Big improvement from when I started working with her and she'd try to bolt on the longe line.

'course, mares are just smarter. *ducks tomatoes from gelding owners*

Monday, March 9, 2009

Who else hates this time of year?

I'm just gonna whine!

I hate it. I want it to be May. I want to be able to go outside and use the round pen. I want to be able to haul horses to another arena to ride without worrying that the roads will be slippery.
And I'm ready for the horses to shed - I am tired of having long-haired, filthy yaks!

We have mud and intermittent snow here. Our indoor arena has not yet completely recovered from the flood damage, so it is nice in some spots and way too deep in others. Sly, the buckskin Paint mare, reacts to hitting a deep spot by freaking out and scrambling so I am hesitant to continue her under-saddle training until we get the arena in better shape, so I've introduced her to long-lining. I thought she was kind of spooky about it the first time until I learned that her actual first time doing it, a year or so ago, she flipped out completely. So now I decided that the fact that I got her going around both directions in a reasonably controlled manner to be a success, and we'll keep working on that. She is terrified of the rope being near or around her butt, so we will work up to that - for now, I am letting it just lay over her saddle.

We are sticking to walk and jog. She needs to learn that it is OK to walk - I like for horses to have a solid walk on the longe line and she thinks you need to go out there right away and charge around - which I think is pretty common. Lots of people ignore walking and it's not just the NH-ey round penning set - I see plenty of hunters that think you go out on the longe line and run around like a fool. I hate that. I want 3 good, reasonably controlled gaits on the longe, just like any other time. Fortunately she is a smart mare and is catching on quickly!

I also want to introduce her to ponying, so I'm going to try to put some riding on a very well broke, huge Appy gelding that we have here as I think he'll tolerate the idea of being ponied off of. He is Mr. Personality - big as a house, so big that he looks part draft even though he isn't. I have renamed him the Moosealoosa. :-)

All my others are fine except for my 35+ year old, Clover, who had to be put to sleep last week. She just got to that point where her balance was going and even though she was still "cleaning her plate" and looked good, it was obvious she was going to go down at some point and not be able to get back up. She was a free Craigslist horse two years ago, thrown away by a girl who wanted "a young horse who could go fast" and "didn't know why she was so skinny" (she was long past any ability to chew hay, and was starving to death). She ate hay pellet mush with me for a little over two years and died looking like you see below. That's my idea of a happy ending!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The "big horse, big mover" issue

I know someone who has a lovely horse. Sixteen hands, buckskin, sweet and a lovely mover. However, prior to her ownership, he had two speeds:

1) stop
2) go fast

She has put some training into him, and he has done very well but the problem she is still having is that he just feels big underneath her. He launches into gaits with an enthusiasm that is scary to sit on and she's having trouble making herself relax and not instinctively tighten up on his mouth. Her dressage instructor loves him - but this is a woman who rides warmbloods all day!

My friend is far from a wimp or a beginner. She trail rides all over on a hot-tempered Arabian mare who would be difficult for the average person to get along with. She's shown on the national level. But her previous horses, like the Arabian, have had very collected gaits. Getting used to a huge stride is proving to be challenging and intimidating.

I think this is a pretty common problem! We've all ridden big horses that don't feel big because of how well they collect. I've been lucky with the VLC that he doesn't have a big stride and his transitions have always been quiet, if on the lazy side, so I quickly became comfortable on him. By the same token, I'm pretty sure that if I got on something his size that had the great big step or the super-springy trot (you know the one I mean - the one where you constantly have to remind yourself "post low, relax, absorb" because the gait is launching you skyward), I'd be a lot less comfortable too.

So who has got a horse like that and what guidance can you offer for adjusting and adapting?

An interesting offshoot - who has a horse right now that is totally different from what you "normally" own - i.e. you've always been a QH person and now you bought yourself an Icelandic, or you've had Arabians up til now but just purchased a 17 hand part-draft? I think this stuff can be particularly challenging for people who've pretty much always owned their own horses rather than gone through the "I'll ride anything" phase that so many of us experienced as horseless teenagers in large lesson/training barns.

And some updates - the breath-holding Thoroughbred has relaxed quite a bit. Apparently you can touch him on the "scary" side of his neck just fine as long as you are feeding him a cookie with the other hand. Uh-huh. Breath-holding TB below. Reg. name Extinguisher, foaled 2003, rescued from Enumclaw kill pen late 2008.

The Drama pony I've talked about before is going to her first schooling show two weekends from now, so it'll be exciting to see her progress. I turned her over to a more size-appropriate person for jumping and she has been doing fabulously.

The VLC is doing fine - holding up sound after his October stifle injury and continuing to be ridden and fitted up for training. You all know what a stickler I am for conditioning so there's no way he'll go out until I know he can work a very solid 20-25 minutes without strain. That shouldn't take more than another month though, so we're getting close.

I rode Thai's My Mama, the old broodmare, last weekend and she was great. 100% sound and bright and well-behaved and eager to work. I can't believe I finally rescued something sound. She's technically available for adoption, because I really shouldn't keep the sound ones, but I won't cry if she doesn't leave. Still, if you have a thing for old but rideable, personable red mares, feel free to contact me! She would be a gift contract to the right reference and site checked home. No special needs, but she's a wimp and would do best living with another wimp.

I believe Lucy may have a home...she "picked her person out"...after almost a year of turning up her nose at myself and pretty much everybody else who has tried to work with her, and continuing to be hard-to-catch, snorty and distrustful, she went right to the farm owner's adult son where she is boarded and decided he was her new person. She loves him and walks right up to him. Go figure. I am waiting 'til he gets a chance to ride her and make sure they get along before I am calling this a done deal, but things are looking very good for her. I would love it as she loves the "herd" there and fits in very well and it would mean she'd stay with her friends.

I rode Bessie again a few days ago. She had a bad case of scratches that put her out of commission for awhile but the hair is growing back and she's not painful anymore, so I just got on her for a little walk around. I hadn't yet introduced her to a bit when I rode her last summer, and I think she's gotten away with being difficult for bridling since then as she really did her best to evade me. They have a very nice Mylar "comfort snaffle" on her and she doesn't seem to mind it once it's on - she's just objecting to the process. So, that's one thing to work on. She's still the same old Bessie though - very quiet - always going to be the type not to get excited about anything that isn't an alfalfa flake!

The flooded mess around here has subsided and the arena is almost rideable again, so I will get back to work with Sly and am looking forward to that. I'm also going to put some rides, weather permitting, on my friend's rescued large POA pony, shown below. She got her from the Chehalis auction last fall - I believe she failed to receive a bid - and spent the next few months putting manners on the competely mannerless pony, who would literally run you over. The good news is that the issues were all on the ground. Once that was fixed, she turned out to be a lovely riding pony. She is a packer on the trails, has super comfy gaits, a good mouth and absolutely no riding vices. The only thing we need to do is finish her canter - she'll canter nicely on trails but is lazy about holding her gait in an arena situation. This is definitely a pony that could come out of rescue to have a very successful show career with a little more work, and it'll be fun to help with that. (Yes, I know, the mane is hideous and needs professional help!)

The rest of mine are just sitting and eating, their favorite things! I did decide I'm going to sell my two year old palomino Appendix gelding this year, but I'm wary of doing so because of the fear that someone will break him out immediately. I'm going to take some time to shine and slick him up and try to find a nice, like-minded, sporthorse type person for him later in the spring. You never know what someone will do once you sell, but I know I'm not the only person who doesn't believe in starting two year olds, so I'm hoping that the right person will come along. His potential is going to be as a jumper or eventer, and those are things I'm never going to do so I need to find someone who will be able to use and enjoy him.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Holding my breath until I turn blue!

A friend of mine has this huge (17 hh!) Thoroughbred gelding that was rescued from Enumclaw two sales ago. He is very sweet but very nervous around new people. I haltered him and led him out to the turnout and spent some time petting him.

After a while, he let out a huge sigh. My friend explained to me that around new people, he holds his breath until he is sure it is going to be okay. He wasn't trying to get away from me. He didn't show the whites of his eyes. He did everything I told him to - but he was holding his breath the whole time.

Anybody ever have a horse that did this? He's an interesting puzzle. We know he was broke at the track but didn't race, probably at 2. He's 5 now. He is generally quiet and low-energy and not reactive but he looks at all new people like they are going to eat him. Once he knows you, he is great. We are rehabbing his feet at present from some very serious cracks so it will be a while before we try to do any serious work with him but the ground work will continue until then.

Friday, January 30, 2009

What's your learning style?

I was just talking about this with a friend.

Everybody has different learning styles. I learn by doing, which traditionally has made me an underachieving student. I can't sit in a lecture for two hours and pay attention, but I can do things like teach myself CGI by looking at it and experimenting.

This has carried over to riding. I read Mugwump's wonderful descriptions of how to do certain things, and I think that I will try some of them, but in reality I can't imagine how I'd remember what she said without notes in front of my face while I'm actually on the horse! For me, books or videos could never be a great teaching tool - I need to learn in a very hands-on way, with someone telling me when it looks right so that I learn to recognize the feeling. (I also love riding with mirrors - what a great and helpful idea, especially for people like me who feel correct when they're doing it wrong - i.e. leaning too far forward instead of sitting upright!)

Sometimes I think an instructor has to play around with different methods to figure out a student. I've had people where I had to get on the horse and show them, and voila, they caught on. I've had others where the right analogy worked wonders (imagine an invisible cord hanging you from the ceiling to the top of your hunt cap - that's how straight your back should feel) or really simple ones for kids ("noodle" arms that are soft and give, not stiff like an uncooked macaroni).

Sometimes you really need to feel things. I still remember the instructor who finally fixed my inability to get the better of the school horse who "rooted." She stood in front of me and pulled on my reins, hard. I flopped forward. Then she went to the side and gently pushed my shoulders back until they were behind my hip bones, and repeated the exercise. Amazing! I didn't get pulled forward. From that moment on, I "got it" and was able to correct the rooter and keep him on the rail.

So what's your learning style? What has created the a-ha moment for you?

I hate to waste much space when a simple spritz of Troll-B-Gone will do, but all of the Troll Questions have been covered before: (a) the whole point of this blog was to address that many people can and do ride with fear and that it shouldn't stop you from reaching your goals, nor should it be an embarrassment or something that you have to hide from everybody. If not for that whole point, it would honestly not be all that interesting to read a simple training log about a colt who quite frankly has been so fricken' easy that it's sometimes hard to figure out what to write about. Mugwump's hot-headed cowhorse mare makes for a MUCH better story! (b) I have never bred the VLC and certainly cannot be held responsible for the fencing he was turned out on prior to my ownership. (c) I don't believe in riding 2 year olds anymore - yes I used to do it - and will never do it again or pay for it to be done (d) if the VLC does not prove himself in the show ring, he will become a VLG. He doesn't have forever to do this. One show season should suffice. He is either going to be competitive, or not and the only opinions I care about are those of the AQHA judges since those are the opinions that determine whether or not any future foals would be marketable. (e) If you think a coming 4 year old is over the hill and it's "too late" for him to have a successful show career, our opinions on working young horses are so diametrically opposed that we're destined to think the other is an idiot no matter what other discussion takes place. If you think a 4 year old is done growing, you need to read more of Deb Bennett's work. (f) the VLC is a grandson of a Superior Halter Horse/World Show Top Ten/High Point Halter Horse and his dam is a mare who is a full sibling to an AQHA Versatility Horse of the Year with over 2000 points in a wide variety of events - from halter to barrel racing to WP. If that isn't good enough breeding for you, ok, we have different standards but I certainly haven't contradicted myself and my previously stated standards. I have said that I like to see some kind of significant accomplishment in the first three generations - not further back. I have that. End of discussion, at least on my end. I could buy Indian Artifacts or Invitation Only tomorrow and there are people who would say they were POS's because they don't like the Fugly blog. That's why I'm happy to let the judges decide - they're the only opinions that matter. (And now I can link back to this blog entry the next time people bring up the same half-dozen questions that have already been answered...)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Small victories, and learning by doing

All of you in the chickenshit re-rider group will appreciate this...this week I was told to get on a 4 year old OTTB in a large outdoor arena and I did not balk. I just got on him and he was fine, ha ha. Actually he was kind of lazy! So that's my small victory. What's yours?

Regarding the VLC training debate - funny how life works. I was in somebody else's barn watching her trainer work a young stallion who was giving her grief. The trainer never got mad. She never got frustrated. She was never inconsistent. I don't think she even said anything which impresses me as I admit I'm one that talks to the horses constantly and growls at them when they are doing something wrong. She got the same results with body language. So the VLC is going to her, and no, at this point I'm not naming names. You will all see who is showing him when he shows, ha ha. Suffice it to say I finally got a really good vibe about someone. And I was only incidentally in the barn with her - she did not know I was a prospective customer, so I know what I saw is the reality of how she works.

Regarding the baby Moose...none of us were born knowing how to work with a baby. I learned in the late 80s because I was working off my board at a barn that wanted me to longe their AQHA yearlings. This was in the era before round pens, LOL - at least they weren't as common as they are today. This barn did not have one. I had to go out to the large indoor arena and convince previously barely halter broke babies that they wanted to longe. This resembles water skiing behind the Road Runner as Wile E. Coyote is chasing him. I learned about body language and placement not because I watched a video or went to a clinic but by trial and error. If I was in the right place, I could get the baby to keep going around. If I failed, the baby typically did something like charge into the middle straight at me. Fun, fun! Babies bolted off down the wall and I had to practically sit down to hold them to the circle. It was the baby rodeo but it did teach me how to longe.

Around the same time, someone helpfully gave me a completely unhandled yearling as a thank-you for helping him to sell a show horse. Gee, thanks! His name was Tex and he'd been thrown in on a deal with another horse. They weaned him by chasing him into a horse trailer and hauling him from Texas to Wisconsin, where he was chased into a box stall...where he sat until I came along.

Well, he was mine now, so I decided I'd better do something about him. I was young and in the barn all day, so I hung out. I hung out in his stall with a grain bucket. He came to me after a few days or weeks...I can't remember now how long it took. I got a halter on him and we practiced leading inside the stall until we got it right. One thing I remember is that I wasn't in a hurry and I think that was the most important part. We worked on picking up feet. I hung a clippers next to his grain with baling twine so he got used to the buzzing in his ears.

Shortly thereafter, he caught his jaw on something in the stall, probably a bucket hook, and tore quite a hole in the underside of it. I had to hose it out really well daily. When the barn owner saw him standing quietly in the cross ties letting me hose his face, I thought she was going to fall over. It really hadn't taken that long. I rehomed him as a two year old. He saddled, bridled, clipped, longed, ponied, loaded, stood tied to the trailer and basically had everything done but riding. I saw him a year later at our local big rodeo - he was carrying a flag for the grand entrance, as a three year old. The lady was just thrilled with him and said he'd been the easiest horse she'd ever broke out.

I was so proud of that little guy, but in retrospect he taught me way more than I taught him. And the Moose and his difficult moments will teach his mom much more about feel and timing and body language than any clinic or video or instructor ever could. All she's got to do is pay attention all the what works, to what doesn't work. Watch his eye. Watch his ears. Is he cooperative and soft or pissy or confused and apprehensive? Is his attention on you, or on the other horses down the road? You don't have to accomplish everything immediately. There's nothing wrong with isolating him in the stall or round pen and working on basics...ho means ho, stand where you are put, pick up feet, clip your bridle path, etc.

Get it all down in a safe, enclosed space first before you try to take the show on the road and remember, everything is stupider in a cold wind, even thirty year olds! (Admit it, everybody - you've been taken for an unplanned ice skating session by a 25+ year old who was feeling goooood in an icy wind! I know I have.)

And always remember...anyone who never has a doubt about whether or not they are doing the right thing with a horse is probably a complete asshole. Every good trainer that you will ever talk to will admit to moments where they realize they could have handled a behavior better, reacted differently, or tried something else. I mean, I can tell you things like "when they start running around you in circles, the next thing they do is duck in and try to come over the top of you, so have your elbow ready to block them" but that's also something you'll learn by doing. You learn by doing and the more of them you handle, the more you learn. Some day, it really will come easy!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Decisions, decisions, decisions...

Lots of updates!

The VLC is back to 100% sound after a regimen of handwalking, hand-backing and longeing on a big circle with lots of walk-trot transitions, so I finally got to ride him a few days ago and was reminded again how much I love him! He hasn't been ridden since October, I think, and he stood perfectly still for mounting and did not move off until I asked (hooray! That was a tough thing for him to learn last year, but it stuck!). He then walked off on a loose rein, ignored the other horse in the arena and generally rode just like he always did. He was so lazy that I had to threaten him with the rein ends to get a jog but that's typical with him - he fires up as he gets fit. When he is unfit, he is a marshmallow who just wants to walk. Personally, as an older, chickenshit rider, I think that is a FINE, FINE, FINE quality! It's great to know that any time he has to be laid off and not work, he will come back LAZY. The rehab period had another nice benefit - he has learned to back on a perfectly straight line, as well as back around circles and corners and make turns. I think we've inadvertently set him up for trail class!

Now of course I'm back to the original for his show career. Wouldn't you know it, the trainer I liked sends horses to ... *sigh* Cleve Wells. Now, that person may be completely innocent and not know anything about him other than that he's a big name and wins. The trainer I like is a long, long, long way away from Cleve. Still, now I am nervous again. I imagine what I would do to someone who put spur tracks on MY colt or broke HIS jaw and I'm pretty sure I would go to jail for it.

Friend #1 says to send him to a dressage trainer. While I can find one of those who isn't abusive, you guys have all seen my VLC (pic below for those who may not have). He just isn't built for it. He's built for AQHA pleasure. That's his niche. That's what will come easy to him.

Friend #2 says send him to the original trainer. I saw nothing wrong in that person's barn (true, I was VERY impressed and didn't see ANY unhappy, thin or marked-up horses) and we all have some shitty friends (also true! I would not like to be judged based upon everybody I've ever come into contact with in the horse world. I worked for some eeevil bastards in my youth.). But he'd be far enough away at Original Trainer's that I couldn't check on him all the time and I am just too nervous. And I don't want to be anybody's paranoid, pain in the ass, nightmare client, either. If I'm not 100% comfortable, I'm sure we'll both be happier if I just don't do it.

Friend #3 says to just do it myself. I've noted before that my major reasoning for not doing it myself is (a) I have a lot to learn - I haven't shown in so many years that, back then, we were still "seesawing" to get head set and (b) I have bad show nerves. I don't always think logically, I make mistakes because I rush things like transitions, and if we get to the point of jumping, forget it because I don't see distance well enough to make a horse look pretty. My horse deserves better than that.

So now I am toying with a variation on #3...I am going to meet with a possible trainer this week and see if I can put him there, take lessons on him a lot and do most of the riding myself, and then have her ride him for shows. If she is comfortable with that, it might be a compromise that I can live with.

I've also decided that at some point this year (might be spring, might be fall, we'll see how other things work out), I want to send him out to a friend in Eastern Washington and have her guys put 30 or 60 days on him just using him on the ranch. He LOVES cows and he LOVES to herd things, despite his size. He herds the smaller gelding he is turned out with. He is way too big to ever cut and I don't think he has the acceleration to rope, but I think that mentally, he would absolutely love the experience and it would make him into the sort of solid, do-anything trail horse that even I would like to trail ride.

And yes, I will start calling him the May when he actually is! For now, he's still a three year old to me. :-)

I'm curious, who has a horse in training or going to training this year? How did you decide on a trainer? How much information do YOU need to feel comfortable that your horse will be safe and that you will get what you pay for?

The Big Gold Yearling (hey, he's not two til March 4th!) is out to pasture with a TB colt and they are enjoying their life of rolling in the mud and biting each other in the neck. I'm thrilled because the TB likes to RUN and that has gotten my colt into a lot better shape without putting him into a formal work program. The eternally ribby, gawky yearling look has gone away and now he's round with a butt and some muscle tone! He's still growing like a weed. I think he's going to be bigger than the VLC. He'll come back home this summer and get to work learning to be ponied and wear tack.

I am hoping that Thai (above), who is still out rehabbing with KarenV, will be amenable to being used as a pony horse. My goal with her is to fit her up, teach her to neck rein and use her for that. She's sound and normal weight now thanks to Karen - just waiting for spring to bring her back to this side of the mountains and put her to work!

Lucy has an admirer! Lucy, the Crabby Old Bat, and the yearling are all pasture boarded at the same place, and the lady's adult son loves Lucy. Lucy, surprisingly, loves him too. She is still very wary of most people but will let this big guy come right up and catch her. He is going to ride her when weather permits and see what he thinks. Cross your fingers - Lucy really needs a person of her own! She also just loves the pasture board life - she thrives on it and has no trouble holding good weight in a herd. She would very much like to stay right in the herd she's with, and if he adopts her, she will. For now, she is muddy and happy and probably the most relaxed that I have seen her since we got her. All efforts to ID her have failed - her tattoo is simply too illegible. We know she is 15 this year and that's all we know. Lucy is below. Love that front end. Jeez, people, who bred that? She's 100% sound, though!

The Crabby Old Bat is also muddy, happy and delighting in the fact that she gets to rule a small herd again. I tried keeping her separate with Lucy and Belle and she would have none of it. She needed to rule over the barn owner's geldings and walked through the fence repeatedly until we gave up and let her. Now she is happy. She has a 17 hand Seattle Slew bred OTTB gelding for a boyfriend, and the two of them hang out together and kick anybody else who dares to come near. She's also the best weight I've ever seen her, and I credit a lot of that to finding really mud-free pasture for her this winter. Even with all of the rain we've had, the place she's at is high and mostly dry - it runs off right down to the road - there's mud but none of the deep, sucking stuff that aggravates her old joints and causes her to drop weight from pain.

Belle and Clover are with another friend as Belle wasn't doing well out with Lucy and Buffy. Belle isn't a "herd horse" - she likes to be treated like a princess. Her teeth are so poor even after a floating and extractions that we have switched her to alfalfa pellet mush along with Clover. The two of them live together and gimp around happily, waiting for their slaves to bring them their warm mush! I actually dewormed them the other day without drama from Belle. That is a first. She normally rears, strikes and makes a huge drama out of it. Maybe you can teach an old dog - or an old-ex-broodmare - new tricks!

My January training project is going to be my February training project. Sly finally returned from the fairgrounds but our arena is still too wet to use. I may try to do some ground work in the gravel parking lot, but for the most part, training is simply pushed forward to whenever I have a safe place to ride again.

I went out to visit Libby, the VLC's filly from last year. She is in that gawky yearling stage and gave me a little grief about catching but after that, she was wonderful. She stood quietly tied to the fence and let us pick up her feet, groom her and shampoo her tail. She's much more "huntseat-y" looking than her dam and I think she's going to turn out pretty cool!

That's my update. How is everybody else doing? How's my baby moose? :-)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Training on hold but Sly is a star!

Here she is on the KOMO TV site:

We are still recovering from the flood and I still can't ride. They did have "open riding" tonight at the fairgrounds where our refugees currently reside but I did not think that "open riding" was a good place for Sly's third ride, LOL.

So we'll pick back up when we have a story to tell!

P.S. I can't watch things like "open riding." OMG. Lady on the little sorrel with her ears pinned, she's pissy because she is LAME, stop snapping her in the face...she is crossfiring because she is LAME LAME LAME. Arrrrgggghhhh...

Friday, January 2, 2009


Just came in from having a great session with Sly. This was #3 and today it all clicked. She figured out that I wanted her to keep going in a circle and resisted the urge to stop and fly backward just because she was on the "open" ends (some of you may recall that our home arena is divided by a fence in the middle, so it's like having a round pen on two sides of your longeing circle and open on the other two sides - otherwise known as "temptation" for green horses who think they might want to go somewhere other than a nice round circle!) She walked on the longe today without trying to break into a jog. She jogged when asked, without any of the jumpiness and snorting that had characterized longeing sessions #1 and #2. In fact, she didn't even snort once.

I did have another horse tied in the arena today. I noticed that Sly gets very distracted and upset when she's alone, and the other filly needed a tying lesson anyway, so we brought her in. Sly was definitely more able to focus on work with another horse in sight. We have about a half-dozen Thoroughbred mares who could use patience lessons, so we'll just call this "killing two birds with one stone." Yes, horses need to learn to work alone, but they also need to learn to work with other horses around so I don't really care which they learn first and, actually, having to ignore a Thoroughbred filly having a hissy fit and pulling back is probably a good learning experience. (She is a smart filly. She only did it once; when it did not work, she abandoned the idea.)

We also worked on "ho." This mare knows to stop when you give a sharp pull on the longe but there's no voice command associated with that. If you don't pull, you could ho-ho-ho like Santa Claus and get no response. I want a verbal "ho" installed on a horse. I want a "ho" that means, you slide stop and plant your feet no matter what - even if the headstall broke, even if you are really scared, even if you are pretty sure you do want to jump off that cliff in front of you. I want emergency brakes that work pretty darn reliably, so I am working on installing them now!

This reminds me of a funny story. The first time I ever went to a real hunter horseshow, after growing up at a polo barn, I thought the horses were just terribly mannered and I couldn't understand why they were winning. The reason? They all took so long to stop! I had grown up on horses who slide-stopped on "ho" or when you drove your seat into the saddle and squeezed with your thighs. I couldn't imagine why it would take a horse several steps to stop cantering (or to start cantering, for that matter). I had never ridden a horse who lugged on the bit and slowly ground to a halt. They all looked barely green-broke to me. Ha ha, culture shock!

Who else had a major "WTF" experience the first time they saw a riding style very different from what they were raised with? What looked weird to you (or still looks weird?)