Monday, November 30, 2009

The vet's verdict

Today when the vet was out to give Panama his fall shots, I told him about Panama's recent reluctance to let me pick his front left hoof. He said the same thing Kate had suggested — that it could actually be that he didn't want to shift the weight to the other foot. He had me pick up his front left, and determined that it was actually that leg that was the problem. He said if the horse gets increasingly more agitated, it's usually that the foot they are standing on that hurts, because the longer they have to keep all their weight on the other leg, the more it hurts.

My vet laid out my options: He said we could do nothing and hope it went away, do just a basic exam, or do it all (including x-rays). I decided on a basic exam and we'd take it from there.

First the vet cleaned out the hoof: no sign of thrush. Then he pulled out his hoof testers and looked for problems with the foot. Nothing, so he continued up to the joints.

First he had me trot Panama away from him. He didn't see anything, so he manipulated the lower joints (canon?, pastern, and fetlock) on his front left. Panama didn't seem to mind. Then the vet told me he was going to flex each joint, hold some pressure on it for a short period, and then put the foot down. I was to immediately trot Panama away from him as soon as he put the foot down.

When he started flexing the fetlock pretty hard, Panama immediately got rather agitated. He shifted around (he is remarkably agile on just three legs, and can even balance on two diagonal legs for brief periods) and even tried to pull away. Then the vet put the foot down and had me trot Panama away from him immediately. After I trotted Panama, he said, "We got a little bit of something there."

He still checked the knee, elbow, and shoulder on the left, even though he said he was pretty sure we'd already found the problem. Then he checked the front right out too. Panama was completely unbothered when he flexed the front right fetlock, with none of the agitation he'd shown on the left.

So the verdict is that I am not to ride him, lunge him, or turn him out for two weeks. At that time, if he's still showing signs of discomfort, we'll take the next step — x-rays to determine the problem, it sounds like.

I find this timing very interesting. I was just thinking on Friday that lately I've been riding every time I visit Panama, which tends to make me start feeling like I'm "using" him by not spending quality time with him on the ground. I start feeling like I'm not connecting as well with him, and it had actually occurred to me that this might be having an effect on his behavior, too.

So I guess I now have two weeks to, er, reignite the romance in our relationship. I plan on doing a lot of grooming and "just hanging out," though I think we'll also work on things like patience while leading and walking into the indoor sections without hesitation, just to be sure we do something productive with our time.

Interestingly, the vet did say that Panama looks physically better than he's ever seen him before. He commented on Panama having grown, and that his pot belly is gone. Not long ago, I blogged about how grown up Panama is looking, so it was good to hear that my vet thinks he is looking good, too. At least it wasn't all bad news today!


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tough times

Part of what has been taking so much of my time lately is dealing with Panama. We have been going through some tough times lately, and as a result I've been spending a lot more time than usual out at the barn.

My trainer and I have both been struggling with Panama's lack of patience, inability to focus, and extreme sensitivity. A lot of it seems to occur in the indoor arena, which I know scares him, but it is also coming out in the outdoor arena, and even the cross ties. Last week, my trainer suggested that he may be going through a rebellious stage, and that we need to be careful to be consistent and try not to get frustrated.

Not getting frustrated is hard. Panama is really smart and my trainer has always commented on it, but lately it's like all his positive qualities went poof, leaving us with nothing but his stubbornness and his fire — traits that have previously been balanced by his intelligence and his cute personality.

Don't get me wrong, it's not all bad — but most days we have at least one battle of wills. Bad days, we have a lot more.

For a long time I thought it had to be because of the new surroundings. There is a lot more going on than he's used to at this barn: more horses, more activity, more to see and more to get used to. But it's started to drag out longer than I would expect for a difficult transition.

I'm also considering a physical issue. I've noticed a couple of possible problems. Panama has been slightly reluctant to let me pick his left front foot lately, and actually bit me on the butt while I was picking it out a few days ago. However, I can't see anything wrong with it, and the farrier didn't see anything either. The vet is coming tomorrow morning to give him his fall shots, so I'll ask him to take a look too. He has been getting a lot of stones in his feet in the corral, so although I do pick them out daily, I suppose that could be it — but I don't know why it would be just that foot that hurts, as it's happening to all of them.

I've also noticed that despite our ongoing problems getting him to relax when we ride, he was very relaxed the other day when I rode him bareback. It was our first bareback ride at the new place, and it was something of a leap of faith for me, considering the problems we've been having. But he did fine! So the question is, was it because the saddle is causing him physical discomfort, or because the lack of a saddle also coincides with a lack of expectations? (I don't do much with him when I ride bareback — just walk and work on leg yields.)

My trainer suggested that I ride him both ways and see what happens. So Thursday and Friday of last week, I rode him bareback, and I think tomorrow I'll ride him bareback again before saddling him up so that I can get a same-day comparison. I also bought him a more comfortable wide fleece girth to replace his narrow fabric one, so we'll try that as well.

Although it would be nice if the problem were physical, as it would provide us with an easy answer and an obvious solution, I actually rather suspect my trainer is right, and he's going through a rebellious time. Perhaps triggered by the move, and I'm just overestimating his ability to adapt? I don't know. I suppose for now, all I can do is try to rule out physical issues, and then be consistent like my trainer says until he (hopefully) gets through this.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Writing vs. riding

Have you ever noticed how alike the words writing and riding sound? Since I do both, I am frequently reminded of this. I don't know how many times I've told someone I'm doing one, they think I've said the other, and I've told them "Well I do that too."

In my post about my horse and the mares, I mentioned that NaNoWriMo is one of the reasons I haven't been blogging as much in November. I got a lot of comments about that.

Anyone who is interested in hearing more about my novel is more than welcome to visit my NaNoWriMo page. There is a bio and a link to my website there, as well as a synopsis of my novel, an excerpt, and my current word count. As of this writing, I have 39,153 words, which means I have 52 hours to eat, sleep, and write 10,847 more words. (I'm a little behind...)

For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about, NaNoWriMo is a challenge to write a 50,000-word novel (or 50,000 words of a novel) in one month. You aren't supposed to start until midnight on November 1st, and you only have until 11:59 pm on November 30th to make it to 50,000.

I "won" (meaning I reached 50,000) the first year I participated, 2006, but I never even got started in 2007, and fizzled out early on last year. This year I technically cheated — you aren't supposed to work on anything but an outline before November 1st, but because I didn't want yet another unfinished project, I am working on a novel I started earlier this year. I had 3,721 words before NaNoWriMo, so I dutifully subtract that number from my total word count every time I update my NaNo word count.

For me, the purpose of NaNoWriMo is to get me into the habit of writing fiction on a daily basis. (As you'll see if you look at my stats, it's not working — I work on my novel mostly on the weekends.) Most of you probably know that I am a freelance writer, but unfortunately that means I tend to focus on writing what pays the bills... which is mostly online marketing copy plus the occasional magazine article. It's hard to find the time to write fiction when I know that writing something else will mean getting paid.

So that's the story about my writing. I don't blog about it much here because I actually have a separate writing blog. Everyone is welcome to pop in over there and say hi if you'd like — though I'm warning you, it's been even more neglected than my horse blog lately!


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Panama is thankful for mares

I went out to the barn this morning thinking I would beat the crowds. As it turns out, so did quite a few people. But also as it turns out, this gave Panama not one but two mares to play with. I turned him out with Lady, another 4-year-old, for the second time today, and before they had finished another boarder brought out her mare, an older girl named Windy.

This picture was taken after he had worked up quite a sweat showing off for the mares. He was SO cute about it — curling his neck, flagging his tail, and prancing. Such a flirt, and a naughty one, too — when Windy didn't want to play, he started bouncing in, nipping her on the butt, and bouncing away again before she could kick out at him. It was like watching a puppy play — I was amazed at how light on his feet he can be when he wants to be!

Sweaty horse

He worked up most of this sweat running in circles after Lady, with whom he is quite enamored, was rudely taken from him and returned to her run (which he could see from the arena). Sadly, I didn't have my camera with me today — just my cell phone, which doesn't really have the picture or video quality to capture something like that.

Panama is also thankful for rolling, which he did many, many times today. It was a lovely warm day, much warmer than it has been for a while, and perfect for rolling and frolicking in the arena with other horses — or so I've been told.

My horse rolling

I'm sorry for not having blogged much lately. In addition to my regular work and the time I spend with Panama, I have been participating in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. Since I can't sacrifice work time, and I don't want to sacrifice horse time, my blogs are what have suffered. But I have plenty to blog about, so I will try to catch up soon!

Happy Thanksgiving!


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Note to self...

...Avoid the indoor section of the barn at Prime Time.

Horse bath

I was planning on giving Panama a bath early yesterday afternoon after riding. But then Michael hurt his back (by sneezing, of all things), so I stayed home. Bath time was postponed until today.

Voodoo's owner and I were planning on meeting so our horses could play, so I decided to bathe Panama afterward. Unfortunately, by that time came, the barn was unusually busy: Several horses in the indoor section had farrier appointments, and there were loads of people around.

So naturally, Panama didn't want to cross the Line of Death, despite the fact that he'd done so for me with very little problems just a few days before. After trying for about ten minutes, I asked Voodoo's owner to stand behind him and wave her arms at him a little bit. I normally would have waited it out, but I was worried about it getting too late for the bath.

She did, and he started to walk forward, but then everyone descended on us and he stopped. Someone told me to give him his head (obviously not understanding, as I do, that my horse will stare at me across the Line of Death until he drops of exhaustion if I don't apply a little pressure, so I can give him that release when he steps forward). Then — and this part is my personal favorite (hear that sarcasm?) — one of the other boarders chased Panama across the line by waving an empty gallon-sized plastic jug (like what you buy windshield washer fluid in) at him. Problem was, she didn't stop once he crossed the line, at which point he's fine, but by not asking me first, she didn't know that. So I was halting him, she was still chasing him, and poor Panama was just confused.

Great. Now I know what we'll be working on tomorrow.

So I walked Panama into the wash rack, and everyone expressed amazement that he did that just fine. (Ummm yeah. That's why I was trying to tell everyone it was just the Line of Death that scared him! And that he'll be fine once he gets past it!) I put him in the wash rack in cross ties for a few minutes, and chatted with my friend while he worked out how to settle down on his own (there's that patience thing again). It took a while, and a few distractions (in the form of people going in and out of the wash rack right under his nose), but he did calm down.

While I was letting him stand there, another boarder (the jug-waving boarder) was washing out buckets under Panama's head. He was actually pretty okay with that — but then she dumped a bucket full of soapy water on the wash rack floor. I'd been scolding him for tossing his head and pulling back, and here's where I know I'm getting through to him: Instead of freaking out and pulling back to get away from it, he curled his neck, did the head-bobbing-scared-watching thing, and kept an eye on the soapy water the whole time as it went down the drain.

I heard laughter behind me, and looked to see one of the other boarders cracking up. "He is SO CUTE!" she said. "If my horse were that scared of something, she would have ripped the cross ties out of the wall!"

Once Panama was no longer jumping out of his skin at every sound (and with all those people in there, there was a lot of that at first), I gave him a bath. He definitely likes the warm water much better, but he was still impatient and nervous about the whole thing — as you can probably tell by his rigid back in the picture above. Toward the end, he actually started whinnying at every person who passed the wash rack, as if he were begging them, "Please get me out of here and away from my crazy mom!"

The bath took a while, as did rubbing him down well enough with towels afterward that I didn't feel bad about taking him out into 60-degree evening air. It's not that cold, all things considered, but I figured he'd really feel it, coming from a warm indoor wash rack. I rubbed him until the hair on his neck was dry and his back and belly were just damp, and then I threw his sheet on him. I checked back on him a couple hours later and both he and the sheet were dry. Thank heavens for breatheable sheets!

All said and done, Panama did pretty well — once we got him all the way inside. But I think until he can walk over the Line of Death without fear in a quiet barn, I need to avoid Prime Time. It's just too chaotic for him — and I don't think I can handle any more "help" without going off on someone! Once he is better inside, I'll go in when the barn is busy sometime, and let everyone know up front that we're working on training and they need to ignore us. But for now, I think avoiding Prime Time is the best way to go.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Happy Veterans Day!

M&M's candy for soldiers

I didn't realize today was Veterans Day until last night. I'm not normally much of one for keeping track of the minor holidays (read: the ones that don't involve candy or presents), but today I thought I'd celebrate with a rather unique blog post.

Michael is home from work today because he wrenched his back during his walk this morning. We were eating peanut butter M&M's this afternoon, and he asked, "What do the Ms stand for?" I didn't know either, so he looked it up.

It turns out that M&M's were originally conceived of as candy for soldiers, because the hard outer shell helped to prevent them from melting in hot weather. In fact, they were sold only to the military during World War II. The Ms stand for the owner of Mars candy company, and the son of Hershey's president. Chocolate was rationed during World War II, so allowing Hershey to have a 20 percent interest in M&M's allowed Mars to get the chocolate he needed for the candy.

So technically, Michael and I celebrated Veterans Day today by indulging in M&M's! How did you celebrate?


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Learning patience

A lot of our work lately — both my trainer's work, and what she's asking me to do — is centered around teaching Panama patience. I've known he's lacking in that department at times, but being in a new place is really highlighting his shortcomings in this area.

We started really focusing on the issue last Friday, during my lesson. In fact, the entire lesson ended up being about it. Basically, Panama wouldn't stand still next to the mounting block for me — a problem we've been having lately. (I have rarely ever had access to a mounting block, so I think it's a new thing for him. He used to stand next to a fence for me to mount when I rode him bareback, but as my trainer pointed out, he's not used to standing next to a block in the corner of an arena.)

Anyway, on Friday once I got him to stand still and let me mount, my trainer asked me to just have him stand for a few minutes while she ran back to the tie stalls for his halter and lead. He was starting to relax, but when she came back and he saw her, he started getting impatient again. He obviously associates her with work, and just wanted to get to it. He started pawing, so she had me dismount, haltered him, and tied him to the rail in the arena.

I think she was expecting fireworks or something, but Panama actually stood pretty well. He moved back and forth a bit and remained quite alert, but even when we disappeared into the lounge (where we could watch him without him being able to see us), he was fine. He did whinny to us when we came back, of course, because he's just cute like that. But overall I think he was much more self-regulating in that situation than my trainer expected.

Then we went back to working with the block. Panama kept walking forward when I was almost ready to get on (a habit that he sometimes has when I'm mounting from the ground, too). For a while I was circling him every time he would do that, but it clearly wasn't working, so my trainer had me back him up instead — all the way across the arena if necessary — then let him stand for a few seconds before walking him back to the block to try again. Finally he got the point and stood for me to mount.

When he got better about standing, my trainer told me to make it hard on him — deliberately tap my toe against his belly, pat his neck and rump and saddle, and even grab the saddle and pull on it a little bit — to get him used to the idea of standing still for me no matter what. I did as she instructed, and he took it fine.

Finally I mounted — and although my trainer told me to make him stand for a few moments, Panama started to walk off. So then she had me walk him around the block and stand next to it again. Well, he didn't want to do that, so we spent quite a while "fighting" over whether he was going to do it. My trainer coached me through it, and I think because of her help I ended up "winning" that round: Panama eventually allowed me to park him next to the block and stood patiently until I got down.

We spent nearly an entire hour on Panama's patience Friday, from when I first tried to mount to when I dismounted for the last time. But it did the trick — when I rode Panama in the indoor yesterday, he only stepped forward once, as if to test me. I had to work a little again on parking him next to the block, but he figured it out much faster this time.

Another thing my trainer wanted me to work on was getting him to stand quietly in the cross ties. He has a habit of tossing his head when he gets bored, which annoys me, so she said I need to get him to stop! That particular habit was resolved pretty quickly once I focused on it, though.

Finally, Panama's lack of patience showed up today while my trainer was riding him. I think I mentioned when I was at the last barn that he would pull with the bit when he got bored. He was being pretty impatient with my trainer today, and started doing the same thing to her. She spent most of the hour working on getting a nice relaxed walk and trot from him. I think he's been pretty spoiled by my short rides and not having to work through boredom very often. I'm not saying I want him to be bored all the time, but he does need to learn to just ride sometimes, and that it's okay to just relax and enjoy the ride.

With issues like these cropping up, and with the new facility and more stuff we can learn and do, I am really glad my trainer is going to be working with us twice a week again, instead of just once. Her riding one day and me riding the other seems to be working quite well, for both Panama and me, and I have confidence that we will work through his patience issues before too much longer!


Monday, November 9, 2009

The Line of Death!

horse training

(Please excuse the bad cell phone pic!)

Today Panama and I rode in the indoor. Unlike yesterday, when I had a nosy boarder butt in while I was working with Panama, today there was only one other person around. That was good, because it turned up we had to do a little bit of catching up after yesterday.

Panama balked a little bit walking into the indoor barn. It was one step at a time for a bit, and I experimented with the preciseness of my pressure and release: Pulling increasingly harder only when he was obviously locked up, and releasing as he took a step whenever I could time it that closely. The first time he took a step and got a release, his ears shot forward, as if he were saying, "Oh yeah, I remember this!"

I have done this before, but I'm sometimes a bit late on the release, so I wanted to work on my timing. I also wanted to try to encourage him to take a step without me having to pull first, so that he sees how much nicer that is! This is where verbal praise came in handy: Every time he took a step more or less on his own, I made sure he knew I was pleased, even though there wasn't an actual release in there.

Another thing I've found works well for Panama is walking back to him and rubbing his neck for a minute. I don't let him back up, but he seems to relax when I stand next to him and pet him. He responds better to the affection than the release or the praise, and is less likely to hesitate when I lead him forward again.

Anyway, within a few minutes I got him to the point where he was walking back and forth down the aisle pretty easily, so we moved on to working on the hallway again. He seems to have the hardest time with this. In the picture you can see the metal strip in the ground between the barn aisle and the hallway — to him this is the Line of Death. Once he gets all four feet over it he'll follow me anywhere without hesitation, but getting each foot over can be like pulling teeth, especially if it's the first time that day. You can see in the picture how he has his two front just barely over the Line of Death, and is looking around very suspiciously.

Once we got all four feet over the line, I walked him all the way down the hall, turned him around, and we did it again. And again. And then a couple more times after our ride. He's gotten a bit worse about it lately, probably because I've usually had someone with me and haven't had to work through it just with him very often (he does better when my trainer or husband is walking with us). He has also shown signs of progress, though: He doesn't spook when I slide the arena and barn doors open anymore, and he walks into the tie stalls with absolutely no hesitation whatsoever. So he's getting there!

Another thing we worked on today was the mounting block — but there's a lot to talk about there, so I'll leave that topic for another post!


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Opinions are like armpits...

...everybody has one. I'm fine with that. When you insist on putting your armpit in everyone else's faces, though, that's when I have a problem with it.

My horse and a cow

Today I had my first bad "big barn" experience: Another boarder was basically a bit too aggressive about offering her opinions and help. The experience was enough to make me glad that I usually don't run into many people during my favorite times to go (late morning and early afternoon during the week).

I was walking Panama down the aisle of the indoor barn when he balked. Originally my idea was to just walk him through from back to front, instead of front to back like we usually do, on our way back to the tie stalls to tack up. But when he balked, I decided we needed to work more on the indoor barn.

Unfortunately there was a lot going on in there today. There were three horses and riders in the indoor arena, and Panama could see the occasional glimpse of them at the other end of the hall, where he'd balked. And another boarder was wandering around doing heaven-knows-what (though I have a feeling she was watching me, as I never saw her really doing much of anything).

The nosy boarder left for a little while to turn her horses out, and during that time I got Panama all the way down the hall to the indoor arena. He was balking quite a bit, so it was mostly one step at a time across the threshold (after which he walked fine on his own). He watched the other horses in the arena for a little bit, and then I walked him back out to the aisle to do it all again.

Around this time, the nosy boarder came back. She planted herself behind Panama — who was stalled at the threshold, looking down the hall toward the arena — and asked if I wanted her to stand behind him. I told her no thank you, and explained that I already know he'll do it when someone stands behind him; I was trying to work on him doing it for me working alone. I also explained that he's done it before, and in fact just did it — he just forgets and gets locked up still sometimes.

The nosy boarder didn't seem to understand — or want to understand — what I was saying. She seemed to think the goal was to get him down the hall, rather than the process of working with him. She said, "You just have to —" and walked up, got between me and Panama, and grabbed his lead rope right underneath the halter. "Come on," she said, and pulled a little.

I'm not sure why she thought her pulling would instantaneously fix the problem, but the result was that I was annoyed and shocked, and Panama was completely bewildered. I let the rope go slack, and he backed up several steps. I just stood there and waited for the nosy boarder to give up and go away, which luckily didn't take very long (though it was temporary).

Of course, her interference had actually made Panama worse. He'd gone from locking up only about turning down the hall to the arena, to locking up in the aisle altogether, so I had to work on getting him to walk down the aisle again before I could even get him back to the hallway.

I finally got him up to the turn, and started working with him on crossing the threshold again. Like clockwork the nosy boarder reappeared, this time brandishing a long crop. It wasn't a bad idea, actually — but again, I already know he'll walk forward if I scare him forward, and that's not the way I want to have to do this on a regular basis. He needs to be able to work through things with me, and walk forward for me. I tried explaining this to the nosy boarder, but she just started on a lecture about what her trainer showed her, and that you do it sometimes with the crop sometimes without just to get him down there, and eventually he'll do it on his own every time.

I understand what she was saying, but my problem with that is I don't want to rely on something or someone to coerce him down that hall every time. My feeling is that if I give in and get the crop (or the helper to stand behind him) every time, he'll learn that he only has to do it if the crop (or the helper) is present. I tried explaining that too, but my explanation fell on deaf ears.

The problem was, this boarder had no interest in what I wanted to do with my horse — she just wanted to help (read: take over), regardless of whether I wanted her to or not. Even while I was trying to politely turn down her offer of the crop, she was tapping Panama's side with it. (While she was standing right in front of him, I might add — she is lucky Panama is not scared of crops and whips!)

Finally she left. It only took a few more minutes — a step at a time, with release and praise every time he made the decision on his own to step forward — before I had him across the threshold and walking down the hall on his own. While we walked, I talked nonsense to him: "You did it and you didn't die! Why was that such a big deal? You're such a silly horse." etc.

The nosy boarder called from the wash rack, "There was a lot of commotion!" Well, obviously. But did she really think I expected an answer? I would think it'd be obvious that I was asking a rhetorical question. I mean, my horse isn't Mr. Ed...

I'm sure the nosy boarder probably thinks I was unable to handle my horse, and ungrateful when help was offered. But the thing is, I didn't ask for help, and I was polite about turning it down. And I did accomplish what I wanted once she left me alone. Regardless, though, I don't think it's appropriate to just march up to someone, get between them and their horse, and grab the horse's lead rope yourself. Not to mention poking someone else's horse with a crop!

I was too shocked at the time to decide what to do about it, but I've decided that next time, I really need to tell her — politely, of course — to get lost. In the meantime, well, I'll be going out to the barn tomorrow to work with him on it some more — during the day, when there is no one around to bother us!


Panama's new playmate!

Sorry for the lack of updates lately. I've had a busy week, and as a result I actually forgot some of what I was planning to blog about! Luckily there is always something exciting happening at the barn, so I don't have to worry too much about catching up.

One of the developments over the past week is that I've found a playmate for Panama. It's a gelding about the same age — Voodoo is nearly 5, and Panama turned 4 over the summer — and just a little bigger than Panama. They played together for a bit on Wednesday, when I met Voodoo's owner — we were both thrilled to find someone else at the barn who believed in playtime! I didn't have my camera with me that day, so I made sure to bring it when we met up today (Saturday) for some more playtime.

It was a gorgeous day — it was in the high 70s, maybe even 80 — perfect for a play date. I got tons of photos, as well as some great video footage. I compiled the best of everything in a fun music video. Enjoy!


Thursday, November 5, 2009

In memory of Texas

It's been a few days since I've blogged, and I have a lot of catching up to do. I had a couple of posts planned, but this morning I heard some news that simply has to take precedence.

Do you remember Texas, my horse's girlfriend at the second barn I boarded him at? It's been nearly a year and a half since he's seen her, but a few months ago I made contact with her owner again. At the time she was selling Tex. I wished I could buy her, but I just didn't (and still don't) have the resources for a second horse.

Sadly, her former owner just found out that Texas recently died of colic. Texas was only 11.

My horse's first girlfriend, Texas

Texas and her boyfriends

My horse and his girlfriend

Texas was Panama's first girlfriend, and the one he was the most attached to. Because of that, I felt rather attached to her, too. Even though I knew I would probably never see her again, I didn't expect this. Poor Tex!


Sunday, November 1, 2009

SIX! and my first nighttime ride

Panama and I got a lot done this evening, so there is a lot to post about tonight — including, as it happens, my sixth fall off of Panama.

Since we set the clocks back last night, when I got to the barn a little after 4pm the sun was already pretty low in the sky. With the foothills so close in the west, it gets dark pretty quickly at the new place, so I realized I didn't have much daylight left. I can't tell you how nice it was to realize I'd be able to ride anyway!

Unfortunately, Panama didn't feel quite the same way. By the time we got tacked up, the indoor barn had been closed up for the night, with all the lights off. He balked a few times walking down the barn aisle, but we still had a little bit of daylight coming in to help us see, which I think helped. (The lights are badly placed: The lights to the aisle between the stalls are in the middle of the barn, and the light to the hallway that leads to the arena are all the way at the end of the hall, by the arena door.)

Turning down the dark hallway that led to the arena proved to be pretty much impossible. After trying for quite some time, I took Panama with me back to the entrance, shut the door so he couldn't escape, and left him sniffing noses with the other horses while I turned on all the lights. It still took some time to convince him the lights had scared all the monsters into hiding (ha), but eventually I got him down the hall and into the arena.

Although my trainer rode him in the indoor arena on Tuesday, he was a bit jittery in there tonight — not as much as he was last time, but still a little on edge. The biggest difference I noticed was that he settled in much faster. He was behaving very nicely, even collecting when I asked, and I could swear I caught him looking at himself in the mirrors a couple of times. (He's already demonstrated an awareness of the mirrors, and he is interested in his reflection rather than scared of it. I wonder what he thinks about when he sees himself?)

The one thing that didn't change from Tuesday was that he was still extremely sensitive to ANY leg pressure. I was working on the serpentine my trainer showed me on Tuesday, and the rapidly changing leg yields had him constantly wanting to speed up. So I walked him through the pattern several times, practicing the leg yields, and halted him every time he (incorrectly) tried to trot.

He seemed to be calming down a bit, so I decided to trot him around the entire arena once (no serpentine). When we were about even with the open door to the arena, I had the sudden sensation of the horse disappearing out from under me: He had stumbled and was going down. (I suspect it's because he was looking out the door instead of paying attention to where he was putting his feet, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't a spook, since he very definitely was going down.)

He regained his footing a moment later, but not before I had lost my sense of balance. So when he came back up, it jostled me around. I pulled back on the reins, and — no doubt because of our frequent stops just a few moments before — he halted. Immediately.

I wasn't at all prepared for that fast of a stop, and I fell forward onto his withers. Panama went from halting to running, and I — having lost my balance and my seat — went bounce-bounce-WHEEEEEEEEcrash.

I landed on my side, mainly my hip, but it wasn't a very hard fall — I was back on my feet so quickly I can't even remember getting back up. Panama hadn't even made it quite halfway around the arena yet, so it definitely didn't take very long. I laughed and said his name, and he came back to me. I put my arms around his neck and could feel his heart pounding, but he wasn't jumpy at all. I think it was kind of a "duh" moment for both of us.

I made sure to get on again, although I only rode for about five more minutes. I had been concentrating so hard that we'd been riding for about 45 minutes, and I totally hadn't realized. I decided a little walking to calm down, and then a few (uneventful) trotting laps, would be a good way to finish up.

Then we had to reverse all of the beginning stuff. I dismounted and walked Panama around with me while I scooped up the little surprises he'd left all over the arena. He had some trouble walking back into the arena again with me when I retrieved the manure fork, but it didn't take as long that time. Then I closed up the arena and halted him right outside the lounge door, so that I could run inside and shut up the arena lights. (I didn't think the barn owners would appreciate a horse in the lounge.) To my surprise, he stood still and waited for me!

I shut off the lights and walked Panama down the darkened aisle. He seemed to trust me a little more this time, and didn't spook or try to walk on top of me. Since we were leaving, though, it's doubtful that he has gotten over it quite yet. I love having a place where we can ride at night, but we are definitely going to have to do this more often so that Panama gets used to going inside in the dark!


Happy Halloween!

It's a bit belated Halloween wish, but it's been a hectic day. This afternoon — what feels like eons ago — Michael and I went to the barn for our first real visit since the snowstorm. I was planning on riding, but I had forgotten about the barn Halloween party and potluck, which was already in progress. The indoor arena was jam-packed with horses in Halloween costumes, so I gave up the idea of riding.

Although Panama's corral is on the other end of the property, but he knew something was up, and was an absolute pill in the cross ties. So I took him to the outdoor arena and turned him out so that he could see what was going on.

One of the things the barn was doing was hay rides — someone (a friend of the owners, I think) brought in a couple of draft horses and pulled a big red wagon around the neighborhood. Shortly after I turned Panama out in the arena, they came back. He was so excited! He was on the far side of the arena at the time, and completely froze, watching them. I started walking toward the other end of the arena, and that seemed to "unstick" him: He cantered across the arena with his tail flagged, and trotted along the edge of the arena at the wagon's side as it pulled in for a new load.

When they left again, he did the same thing, and I managed to capture it with a cell phone video. Sorry for the poor quality, but I figured you might like to see it anyway!

Happy Halloween!