Friday, October 31, 2008

Back to learning to canter

You may remember me blogging about cantering on Panama for the first time during the summer. It was a big step for me — I've cantered before on other horses, but as an adult I've never felt as comfortable about it as I did when I learned to ride as a kid; and then of course the few times Panama spooked and broke into a canter with me on him, I fell off.

Well, after that one lesson over the summer, I didn't get to try it again — Panama got his leg wound just over a week later, and as a result I didn't ride him for a couple of weeks. And then I got kicked out of the barn, and Panama's temporary new home was not really set up for riding or training. By the time we finally started having regular sessions again a few weeks ago, I had lost my riding muscles and my stamina, and had to build back up to that again.

On Wednesday during a session, my trainer asked if I wanted to try cantering again. Unfortunately, by that time I had worked so much on getting Panama to collect at the trot that my legs were quite tired, so I suggested we do it at my next session, which was yesterday.

So yesterday I cantered on Panama for the second time. We cantered three times, each time for only a short distance, as my trainer wants me to start small. The first time, Panama picked up the canter almost immediately, which surprised me (when we tried in July, he seemed skeptical that Mommy actually wanted to canter on him, and was slow to respond to my commands). As a result of my surprise, my balance wobbled just briefly, and I dropped my stirrup. At first I thought I would fall, but when I realized I was staying in the saddle just fine (thank goodness I've got some of my riding muscles back!), I slowed him down without any mishaps.

The second time we cantered, I kept my feet in both stirrups, but ironically enough I rode a little worse — I was tense and had my weight on my toes, which was pushing me up and forward in the saddle. Panama didn't want to slow down again that time, so I cantered him into a corner; he got the picture and stopped.

The third time was the best, but it was also the last, because I was getting tired. When we started trotting after the second time, Panama was tense and excited; all he wanted to do was canter! My trainer had me trot him around in a million small circles, first one way then the other, until he calmed down and started listening. (The idea was to make him have to keep thinking about what I would tell him to do next, rather than preparing his entire body to canter at any minute.) Finally he settled into a nice, relaxed trot, and we cantered for the third time.

Right after we started to canter, my trainer called to me, "Keep your heels down!" I pushed my heels down and the difference was amazing — I could feel myself sit back in the saddle, could even feel myself relax a teensy bit. Panama slowed down promptly for me that time, too. Even my trainer said it was much better.

I'm admittedly still a little nervous about next time, and I don't know that I'll practice cantering without my trainer there, but at least I'm getting it out of the way and making some progress!

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Neglecting my horse... and my horse blog

Sorry I haven't been very good about updating my horse blog lately! I was extremely busy during the last couple of weeks with work. I'm afraid I was neglecting my horse shamefully, too — I only visited him three or four times since I blogged last.

I met a major deadline Tuesday evening, though, so I spent a while with my horse this afternoon. I have lots of updates to blog about, though, so I'll be sure to post with more soon!

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Something new to work on

Yesterday my trainer came again. This time, instead of working on getting Panama to collect, we worked on getting him to stay focused and go where we asked him to go — something I had problems with on Wednesday.

Basically, Panama doesn't like to go in a straight line. He's gotten to the point where he anticipates going in a circle so much that he heads that way without waiting for our cue — and in fact, cuts some of the corners a little more than he should. So yesterday my trainer worked with him on going in a straight line and going the opposite direction of what he expected all the time — and had me do the same when I rode him.

She wants me to work on this over the weekend, which should give Panama and I plenty to do. The good thing about it is that it's less boring for me, too, if I don't just go in a circle all the time!

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Feeling good about riding

I rode Panama again this afternoon, in my newly oiled bridle and saddle. Although we didn't accomplish much of what my trainer wanted me to work on (getting Panama to collect), I was happy with the ride for a couple of reasons:

1. Because I was able to ride for longer today before my muscles got fatigued, and

2. Because we did accomplish something: Panama was really distracted by the other horses, who had just gotten their grain, so we worked plenty on going where I asked him to go (rather than to the fence or the gate).

Actually, though, I think any kind of ride today, good or bad, would have made me happy. I just feel good about riding again. Plus, it was a gorgeous sunny fall day, which was a nice change after several days of overcast, cooler weather.

I can't wait to start getting Panama out on the trails at the new place! Perhaps this weekend I'll hand-walk him along the street and across the street to the field, so that he can start getting used to being outside of the fence.

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Oiling my bridle

Last night I finished oiling my tack by putting one final — and rather generous — coat of oil on my bridle. This morning I decided that although the cracks are (of course) still present, the bridle and reins are supple enough now to leave off applying any more oil.

In fact, I am rather happy with the results of oiling my bridle. The smaller cracks are not as easily visible, and the larger cracks (which are fewer and not as bad as I initially thought) don't look like they'll go any further for the time being.

Although I will still look for a new bridle and reins, I am pleased that this one turned out well enough to last me for a while longer, and perhaps even stand in as a backup once I find a new set!

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Don't forget to oil your tack!

Learn from my mistakes, and don't forget to oil your tack regularly. It's disappointing to know that you have potentially ruined something that might have survived if you had oiled it regularly.

When I bought my first (used) bridle about a year ago, it looked virtually unused, but was extremely stiff and dry. The owner of the tack store also sold me neatsfoot oil and urged me to oil the bridle before using it.

I did oil it first, but the leather was so stiff, and I was so clueless about oiling tack, that I don't think it did much good. It definitely didn't make it any more supple. I haven't tried oiling it again, so over time the leather has started to crack in places.

When my trainer was riding Panama today, she mentioned that my saddle needed to be oiled, so after our training session I took both the saddle and bridle home.

I oiled the saddle first, and discovered that for the most part it didn't need much oil — it was in like-new condition when I bought it in the spring. However, the stirrup leathers were a little dry: They soaked in three or four coats of oil, and probably could have taken more. (I'll bring home the saddle in a few weeks and oil them again.)

Then I oiled my bridle. And oiled it again. And again. It seems like no matter how many coats of oil I give it, it ends up looking just as dry as ever. I'm going to give it one more really good coat before I go to bed, and then let it sit overnight.

Unfortunately, I don't think all the oil in the world is going to repair the damage my neglect caused. I anticipate having to get a new bridle and reins before too much longer — maybe for Christmas.

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My horse and I, back to work!

Today I had a session with my horse trainer for the first time in just over a month and a half. Although I rode him bareback once at his last home, it was a brief ride and we didn't do anything more than walk. Today was our first serious ride since the last weekend in August — the day before I got kicked out of our old barn, actually.

Keeping in mind that he was cooped up in a small corral for all of September, and has only been at the new barn for about a week and a half, Panama did very well today. His only problem was that he really wanted to run, so my trainer lunged him for a little bit and just let him canter as long as he wanted (which was a pretty long time). After he got his wiggles out, he was pretty well behaved.

My trainer rode Panama for a little bit, and then had me get on. She wants me to work on having Panama collect while I am riding him, so she had me practice at both the walk and the trot. Panama and I need to figure out how to work together on this one a bit better, so I'm planning on practicing some more tomorrow.

Although the muscles in my inner thighs are no longer used to posting and very quickly got fatigued today, it felt really good to ride again — and I think Panama enjoyed it too!

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Thursday, October 9, 2008

My horse is such a ladies man

My horse already has a new girlfriend at his new home! They paired up a few days ago, so it really didn't take him long at all. She is an older mare who has had a few babies in her youth, and she is very sweet (and, incidentally, very much in heat right now).

Dancer is a dark bay, just like his old girlfriend, so my joke is that Panama prefers brunettes. (He also, apparently, prefers older women.) She is incredibly sweet and laid back, and is the only horse who hasn't chased Panama at all since he first arrived.

Panama and Dancer keep nuzzling muzzles like they're kissing, and both do the funny lip contortions and licking that indicate subordinance in horse language. (Michael jokes that they're going back and forth, saying, "You're the boss!" "No, you're the boss!" "No, you're the boss!")

My horse and his girlfriend nuzzling muzzles

Dancer follows Panama everywhere, and is very sweet and loyal to him. Sometimes the other gelding runs Panama off and starts herding Dancer to keep her away from him, but she always returns to Panama the first chance she gets!

Dancer and Panama

New barn, new girlfriend

My horse and his new girlfriend

Follow the leader

Aren't they adorable together?

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Pictures of my horse rolling

I gave my horse a bath yesterday — his first bath in more than a month. Naturally, he rolled half an hour later. I just happened to be sitting in the pasture, hanging out, and was able to snap some good pictures:

Pictures of my horse rolling

Pictures of my horse rolling

Pictures of my horse rolling

Pictures of my horse rolling

Pictures of my horse rolling

Pictures of my horse rolling

Pictures of my horse rolling

Pictures of my horse rolling

Pictures of my horse rolling

The next funniest thing to the sight of a horse wriggling around on his back with all four feet in the air, is the sight of a horse getting up. It looks rather awkward:

Pictures of my horse rolling

Pictures of my horse rolling

Pictures of my horse rolling

I guess he wouldn't have stayed clean for long anyway, since he lives in a dirt pasture. But still, it is dismaying to see a horse roll after you've spent so much time getting him clean!

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Monday, October 6, 2008

My horse's new home: A quick picture

I keep forgetting to get some good pictures of my horse in his new home, so here's a quick cell phone picture I took yesterday:

My horse in his new home

I'll take some better pictures today or tomorrow!

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Sunday, October 5, 2008

My horse in his new home, part 2

Like any devoted horse mommy, I was anxious to see how Panama handled his first night in his new home. When I arrived Saturday afternoon, however, I was relieved to see that although the other horses were still not accepting him, he had no new bites on him, either.

Panama seemed happy to see me. All four horses were in the far pasture, even though the gates were open to enable them to move freely between pastures. The other three horses were hanging out in the barn on that side, and Panama was poking around in the weeds looking for something nice to eat. He came right over to me when he saw me, though.

I shut the gates between the pastures, so that the other horses couldn't hurt Panama by trying to chase him when I had him tied up, and groomed him for a bit. I noticed immediately that he is more relaxed than he was at the last place: His tail is relaxed and pliable when I groom him, not slammed tight against his butt. He stood for me quietly, too, occasionally nuzzling my hair or shoulder affectionately.

This morning he seemed even more comfortable, and although he still seemed somewhat ostracized, it wasn't as bad. All four horses were in the near pasture with the gates between them closed, so I took Panama with me into the far pasture and shut the gates again. There I chased him around a little, and he naturally started free lunging in a nice circle around me, even though the pasture is large and rectangular. Then I groomed him quickly (since I had lost track of time and had a 12:30 pm appointment that I was going to be late for if I didn't hustle).

At the end of the first weekend in the new place, I have to say I am very happy with Panama's new home. The property's owner is very friendly and flexible, and the place itself is quite nice. Since Panama is still settling in, we haven't had a chance yet to explore all the places we can ride nearby, but I am looking forward to it very much!

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My horse in his new home, part 1

When we arrived at my horse's new home Friday night, Panama was slick with sweat from his traumatic trailering experience, but his night wasn't yet over: He had to get through the ordeal of meeting his three new stablemates.

The property's owner had the other horses all in the far pasture to make it easier for us to unload Panama, so we backed the truck right into the pasture that borders the street. Panama unloaded just fine (of course — all he wanted was to be off that trailer), but then he danced around uncertainly at the end of the lead rope until I unhooked him to let him explore.

He poked around a little bit, but quickly discovered that there were horses on the other side of the fence. I knew he'd be happier with other horses, even if they picked on him at first, so the owner and I opened the gate between the pastures to let the others through. Of course, they went right after Panama — he ran like hell, wheeling around when he ran out of room to avoid getting trapped in the corners, and squealing when their teeth found flesh.

Although I expect the bites that come with a herd environment, it's difficult to watch your horse getting picked on. Luckily, after ten minutes or so — once they'd convinced him that he would be staying the night on the far end of the pasture — they left him alone, so I was able to check him over. He had one bad bite on the highest part of his rump, and a few minor bites, but that was it.

I wish I'd been able to move him earlier in the day, as originally planned; I had intended to spend most of the afternoon with him. But late at night, in the dark, there wasn't much I could do with him. We stayed for a little bit, fed him some hay, and then called it a night.

Stay tuned to find out how Panama handled his first weekend at the new place, and see some pictures of him and his new buddies!

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Saturday, October 4, 2008

Difficulties trailering, part 2

After the first guy who was supposed to trailer my horse stood me up, the only way I could get him moved the same day was to move him later that evening.

It was probably a bad idea, and I shouldn't have even considered trying to load Panama in the dark, after his history with trailers. It compounded the problem that the trailer the guy brought had a ramp, which tends to scare Panama more. And it was as dark as a cave inside, since there were no windows to allow the horses to see out.

But the thing is, he did load for me, completely, on the second try. He just went right on in. Unfortunately, we hadn't really discussed with the guy that he'd need to shut the doors immediately; after several seconds Panama decided it wasn't such a good idea, after all, and backed out.

After that I was unable to get him to load for me again. The driver tried, too, and couldn't do it. Then I had the idea of using a lunge line and wrapping it around his rear end to move him forward from behind — a technique that has worked for me in the past, not for loading, but for getting him to move forward when he's balking. Unfortunately, it wasn't very well coordinated, and the line slipped down over his hocks, which made him start kicking to free himself — and then run away.

This is where it gets really fun. I was still holding onto one end of the line when Panama started trotting away. I had loosened my grip to let the line come off the back of his legs, so it started to slip through my hand. When I felt the burn, I instinctively tightened my grip — and was promptly pulled off my feet.

Since I was standing on the ramp, I was a little above the ground, which is why I think what happened next was even possible: I felt my body instinctively tuck and roll, and was surprised to find that my feet knew right where the ground was. I literally went head-over-heels, rolled, and landed right back up on my feet again.

Of course, today my neck and shoulders are a bit sore, but still, I'm impressed with the things my body will do to protect itself!

Anyway, the guy whose place we were moving out of spoke up then with an idea. By the time I realized what he was going to do, and how bad for Panama it was, I felt helpless to stop it from happening. Basically, the guy tied a long, strong rope to Panama's halter, wound it around one of the support posts in the front of the trailer, and slowly shortened the rope to force Panama in.

Unfortunately, Panama is the kind of horse who responds to force by fighting back harder, and oh did he fight! His legs were flailing like mad and he kept losing his footing; I was worried he would cut up his legs on the edges of the ramp, but luckily he didn't. If he had gone down one more time I was going to say, "Enough," but he got into the trailer just when I was making up my mind to speak up.

We did ultimately get Panama loaded up and transported to his new home safely, but the way we accomplished it stuck with me and made me feel awful. First, it was horrifically frightening for him — when we arrived at the new place and opened up the trailer, I discovered he was soaked in sweat. Second, he could have been badly hurt in the process — and even though he wasn't, it still scares me to think of how it could have gone.

Third, and most important, the experience is going to leave an impression — and the next time we go to load him will be that much more difficult. And he'd just finally been getting better at it, too!

As my husband keeps pointing out, though, he's safe in his new home, and it's a good home. I'll blog about the new place soon.

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Difficulties trailering, part 1

Yesterday we moved my horse to his new home. It was a nightmare experience, and I feel really bad about some of what I put Panama through.

It should have gone smoothly. On Tuesday I scheduled with a guy who hauls horses as his business. I've heard that he can be unreliable, but a friend from my old barn used him about a month ago without any problems, and at the beginning of the week he was actually the only one of several people I called who called me back.

Unfortunately, I should have paid more attention to the reports of him being reliable, because he stood me up. After that first phone call, I never heard another word from him: He didn't call to confirm the night before the way he said he would, and Iwas unable to reach him when I tried calling myself the day of the transport.

Luckily, I had finally gotten a call back from one of the other transport guys, so I called him to see if he could move me last-minute. He could, so we scheduled for evening.

Unfortunately, moving Panama turned out to be more easily said than done, and you'll see in part 2...

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Friday, October 3, 2008

A horse's unconditional love

I haven't been blogging as much in the last week or so, because I also haven't been going to see my horse as much. I'm afraid he's been pretty neglected: I haven't lunged him in at least two weeks, and I stopped going to see him every day a little over a week ago — which also means that he hasn't been getting his grain every day, either.

One thing I love about horses is that they don't hold that kind of thing against you. I visited Panama on Wednesday for the first time in four days, and rather than sulking, he greeted me with an eager nicker as I walked toward him — even before I made a move to get his grain. (He always nickers when I start scooping his grain.) I greeted him over the fence, and he submitted to me petting and kissing his nose without pulling away — an unusual show of patience, as he typically doesn't like me holding his head still so that I can cuddle with him.

I also was sure to visit him yesterday, and I have plans to visit today, too.

I think part of my reluctance to visit my horse has to do with not liking where he's at right now. Once I knew I'd be moving him soon, I stopped feeling like I needed to go every day. It's not like there's much I can do with him where he's at, but since I'll soon have him someplace much better, I guess I'm saving my visits for when I can do something productive with him.

I'm just glad he didn't hold it against me that I wasn't visiting every day!

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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Jenny Oldfield's The Horses of Half Moon Ranch

iconJust a couple of days ago, I blogged on my book review blog about the first two books in a new horse series for young girls: The Horses of Half Moon Ranch, by Jenny Oldfield. However, they also deserve a mention here.

For one thing, these books take place at a fictional dude ranch here in Colorado — and I have to say that judging by these two books, I think Oldfield did a good job of capturing the essence of my beloved home state. She did a good job of capturing some other things, too, as you'll see.

As I mention on my other blog, Wild Horses was a good action-packed first book, but it was Rodeo Rocky that actually won me over. In the second book, the main character, Kirstie, attends her first rodeo — and is horrified at the way the animals are treated. I was pleasantly surprised that the book addressed this issue, rather than glossing over it in an attempt to make it more "age appropriate" (read: less controversial).

iconAfter Kirstie falls in love with a mustang who was mistreated in the wild horse races, she and her mom buy the horse and take it back to their place, with the intention of training it to be used on their dude ranch. This is another part where the book impressed me: I thought it did a very good job of accurately describing a more natural approach to horse training, and it demonstrated the importance of teaching horses to trust their handlers instead of fear them. And of course, I am a sucker for any story of someone rescuing a horse, since I rescued my own horse from appalling circumstances.

Reading these books, which are meant for middle-grade girls (i.e. ages 9-12), reminded me a lot of the classic horse books I used to read as a little girl: The Black Stallion, Black Beauty, and Stormy, Misty's Foal. It also reminded me a lot of My Friend Flicka, which I read for the first time only a few months ago. I think this is the beginning of a great series for tween girls, not only because it appeals to their horse-crazy nature, but also because of its realism and the way it introduces issues for young girls to consider, such as how animals should be treated.

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