Monday, June 29, 2009

Baby steps

Today was better than yesterday, but still not quite what I had hoped for. We accomplished some stuff, but haven't quite regained the ground we lost yesterday, particularly with the trailer.

I went over to the barn in the morning, right after dropping Michael off at work. I thought the property owner was still feeding them around 10:00 am, so I figured I'd have time to get a quick ride in before it got hot — and possibly have more luck tempting him into the trailer with grain when he hadn't had his breakfast yet. I don't usually hold with riding a horse before they've had their breakfast, but I figured 15 minutes riding bareback at a walk in the pasture shouldn't be too mean!

However, while I was trying to separate the other two horses into the front pasture while keeping my horse in the back pasture, the owner came out with their hay. I knew riding Panama on an empty stomach with the horses eating on the other side of the fence was a really bad idea, so I set Panama loose (which confused him), and sat down in the shade to relax and wait.

I gave Panama a little over an hour to eat — half an hour spent watching him and the other horses (which was educational, as I don't usually doo that), and another 45 minutes or so spent chatting with the property owner. Then I caught Panama, groomed him, and bridled him.

We rode bareback for 15 minutes or so, just like I'd intended, except that it had gotten a lot hotter in an hour. He behaved himself really well. I worked on getting him to collect at the walk (he'll collect for short periods of time, so I'm trying to get him to hold it for longer), going over the bridge, and of course my balance. I also rode him around the trailer — something we've done before, but he was much more nervous about it today, which demonstrated to me that there's a reason for the lost ground we've experienced lately. Whatever scared him and made him jump into the trailer on Saturday has apparently left a lasting impression.

Another thing we worked on was turning on the forehand. I've always found that he does it better bareback than when there's a saddle between us, probably because he feels the shift in my seat and my leg pressure better. But he still seems to require a lot of pressure on his mouth in order to understand what I want, so today I worked for quite a while on getting him to do it with a looser rein. It took him a while to turn without walking forward, but once he got it, he really got it! I was so pleased!

Once we finished our ride, I brushed him off, scooped his grain, and took him out to the trailer. We started out with the grain on the shelf again, but after a while it became evident Panama wouldn't go for that. It took me forever just to convince him to stand in the doorway (i.e., so that his next step would have to be into the trailer), and it was clear to me that he wasn't going to get any further than that the way we were going.

So as much as it killed me to do it, I again moved his grain to the floor of the trailer. (This goes along with revising our goals when something is not working out. I felt bad about doing so yesterday, but Kate reassured me in her comments that she thought I'd done the right thing. Thanks Kate!) He was still hesitant at first — he put two feet in the trailer several times, and then backed out without getting to his grain. But after several false starts, he finally did get in far enough to eat his grain.

This time I didn't give up after he backed out once. I made him finish his grain in the trailer, which meant he stepped up with both front feet about a dozen times, all said and done. He seemed much more confident about it by the end.

I'm wondering if we're stuck at this point, and if I should try something new to get him the rest of the way in. On the DVD that came with the Pony Boy book I bought recently, there is a segment on trailer loading. The method he uses — basically working with baby steps and relieving the pressure every time the horse gets a step closer to the goal (loading) — seems like a good way to do it.

I'm just not sure if I should change tactics, or if I should hold out and see if Panama gets over whatever set him back. Until yesterday, he was doing really well with my method of using grain to make him more comfortable in the trailer. I'm not sure if I should assume that right now is just a temporary setback, and keep at it, or if I should switch gears and try another approach. What do you think?

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

A disappointing day

Horse teeth

Do you ever have those kinds of days where nothing goes quite the way you planned it — and instead of feeling like you accomplished anything, you are left with a feeling of deep dissatisfaction?

Today was one of those days. Lots of little events seemed to conspire against me getting done what I wanted to. Not only were we there with (we thought) a limited amount of time, but also there was a lot of activity going on just when I was trying to accomplish something.

For starters, we were planning on going down to visit Michael's family after our visit to the barn, so we were only planning on staying at the barn for about an hour. I had a lot to get done, so I made some dumb decisions rather than working on what obviously needed work.

After grooming Panama, I rode him bareback to save time on tacking up and down. Panama started out very nicely.

Bareback horseback ride

Unfortunately, the property owner chose that particular moment in time to give the other two horses their grain. (grrrrr)

Riding my horse bareback

Panama could see and hear them getting grained, which made him anxious about getting his, too. He started misbehaving, so we did a few circles to remind him who and what he was supposed to be paying attention to.

Bareback riding

He did eventually chill out a bit, but he wasn't truly ever listening again the way he should be. I got him to a point that I considered reasonable, and then decided to move on to the trailer loading practice so that he could get his grain — a decision I now regret. I should have kept riding him until he was truly behaving himself.

Horseback riding bareback

(I have to just mention quickly that this is the first time I've seen pictures of myself riding in months, and I was amazed at how good Panama and I look together. He has filled out nicely in the last year, and I feel like we look much more proportionate to each other than we used to.)

Another reason why I regret rushing to the trailer practice was that the trailer practice sucked. So instead of accomplishing just one thing today, I felt like I did two things and accomplishing NOthing. Quite the disappointment.

Panama wanted the grain pretty badly, but for some reason he wouldn't get into the trailer.

Trailer loading practice with my horse

I think it's because there was too much commotion. The next door neighbor was working on his fence fifteen feet away, and Michael was there taking pictures of us. I didn't realize how much that would distract Panama, but it shouldn't surprise me, since it's always been just the two of us whenever I've always worked on this before.

Horse trailer loading

He did put one or two feet in a couple of times, but each time he backed right back out, like he was worried about something. I wonder if he thought Michael was there to push him the rest of the way in?

After a while, I moved the grain to the trailer floor, pushed all the way back so that he'd still have to put two feet in to get to it. I decided that as difficult as this was, I would have to revise my goals — and if he would just put his front feet into the trailer and eat some grain, I'd be happy with that and give him the rest outside of the trailer.

Eventually he did get both front feet in the trailer and ate several mouthfuls of grain. I praised him, and when he backed out, I brought the grain to where he could reach it with all four feet on the ground.

This is another thing I regret. In my experience, once Panama gets past his fear at the beginning of a practice session, he'll go in again much more easily every time thereafter. So I should have made him do it again. But I was afraid that as hard as I'd had to work for those two feet in, if he wouldn't do it again I'd lose the opportunity to end on a positive note.

In a way, training a horse is sometimes like gambling. It's hard to stop when you're ahead, and when you do you always wonder what would have happened if you'd kept at it. Would you have had another win — or two — or three — or would you have lost everything?

After today's glaring failure, there's no doubt about it — we'll be practicing again tomorrow, and every day this week until I have to give up the trailer. Hopefully this is only a temporary setback.

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Record rainfall

Like many of my blogging friends, I've mentioned a few times throughout June that I was having a hard time finding time to ride, what with the afternoon and evening thunderstorms we were getting.

It seemed like we were getting more rain than usual, and apparently it wasn't my imagination: We're only one-tenth of an inch away from breaking a rainfall record. We haven't gotten this much rain in June since 1882, for crying out loud.

We've got three days left to break the record, and supposedly our chances of it raining today aren't very high, though I'm not sure I believe that — it's getting turning overcast even as I write this.

Hopefully the rain will at least hold off for a little while longer, as hubby and I are supposed to be heading out to the barn in about an hour.

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A bareback ride and a mini fridge

In my excitement about our progress with the trailer, I neglected to tell you about the other things that happened today (Saturday) at the barn.

First of all, I got a pretty good bareback ride in. We only walked — I'm still not feeling comfortable enough bareback to trot on a horse with a balance beam for a back. (Not because he's underweight — he's actually pretty round — but because he is still what my saddle fitter calls "slap-sided," which means that his adult musculature hasn't filled out quite yet.) It's getting better than it used to be, but I still feel that either he needs to fill out more or I need to improve my riding skills before I'll be able to trot safely on him bareback.

I still love riding bareback, though, because I feel like we get so much out of it, even at a walk. We are both so much more sensitive to one another that way. He does virtually perfect turns on the forehand when I ride bareback, for one thing. He also did much better stops today, perhaps because I was practicing paying more attention to shifting my weight back when I asked him to whoa, and perhaps just because he could feel what I wanted a little better.

We even crossed the bridge twice. This was a feat for me especially because I feel so much less secure without a saddle, and I worry about him grazing the handrails on the bridge and freaking out because of it. (He seems to forget that my legs make us wider, and it startles him when my leg grazes something. I've learned to use leg yields to prevent it from happening, but I still worry, as the last time I took a pretty bad fall.) But he went over the bridge fine both times, and he even controlled his walk down the other side, almost as if he was taking care of me because he knew I wasn't ready to trot bareback.

The other piece of news is that the property owner ran an extension cord to the tack room so that I could plug in the mini fridge I found on Craigslist recently so that we could keep refrigerated medicines in the tack room. This is a necessary part of the first aid kit that I am putting together, as my vet wants me to have a "colic shot" on hand, which should be refrigerated in order to last a decent amount of time.

I found the fridge on Craigslist and bought it for about $35. It measures just under 2 feet in each direction, and even has a teeny tiny freezer compartment. Now whenever I open the tack room door, I am greeted by the quiet hum of my fridge.

Mini fridge in the barn tack room

It was a big day for barn stuff. I'm determined to get out there again tomorrow — hopefully I'll have just as good a day!

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

All four feet in the trailer!

Panama got all four feet in the trailer today. It was a complete accident, but I think it was a breakthrough nonetheless.

He was a bit hesitant to get in at first today, but after several tries he did get two feet in and eat his grain in the trailer. He was obviously feeling more confident, because he was no longer backing all the way out between bites — after several bites, he'd back up until he front feet were inches from the edge but still in the trailer, and then he'd come forward again for more.

Anyway, he was almost done with his grain when something happened to startle him. I think the horse next door (who was standing at the fence ten feet away, watching us) might have rattled the fence or something. Or Panama could have brushed up against the butt chain, where it was dangling against the wall.

In any case, he pranced for a moment, and then for some reason decided he couldn't back out, so he launched his back feet into the trailer. I say launched because it happened very suddenly — I was totally taken off guard! He immediately went back to eating his grain, though he had his rump tucked so far underneath him that his back was humped. I wanted to pet him as praise, but he was wound so tightly I was afraid my touch would freak him out even more. So I settled for verbally praising him over and over — though I'm not sure that helped, either, as my voice was somewhat high-pitched with excitement.

After about 30 seconds of standing in the trailer, Panama backed out in a hurry. He was a bit nervous about getting back in again to finish off his grain, so I moved the dish to the ground where he could see it better, and settled for just getting two feet in again. I didn't want to end on a note of panic, so my goal was to remind him that he's been comfortable with two feet at a time.

I'm so excited about the progress we made today, and I'm hoping to revisit the trailer issue tomorrow!

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Rain, guilt

We've had a lot of thunderstorms again lately. Every day starts out gorgeous, with lots of sun (though perhaps a bit too hot), but around early or mid-afternoon, it gets dark and overcast. Yesterday it started raining around 4:00 pm and didn't stop most of the evening, and today it went from sunny, to thundering and pouring, back to sunny in the space of about two hours.

Our most recent addition to the household, an American white shepherd named Grace that we got two years ago, is a rescue and a fairly nervous dog, thanks to whatever happened to her in her past life. We do know that her previous owners chained her up underneath a trailer and abandoned her there, and we suspect she spent a lot of her life chained up outside, because she is scared of being left out in the backyard and storms absolutely terrify her.

This is an old picture, from shortly after we got her, so she was still about 25 pounds underweight — but this is what she does during storms:

Our dog Grace, hiding under my desk during a thunderstorm

Keep in mind this is a BIG dog — about 75 to 80 pounds at her full weight, and tall for a shepherd — crammed into the footwell of my desk.

Her favorite place to hide from the thunder is in our big claw foot tub, but she likes to be near whoever is home, so if she can she'll hide in the same room. If I'm working on the bed, she crams herself in between the bed, wall, and nightstand; if I'm working in the office, she'll hide underneath my desk.

Anyway, Michael had today off so I was originally planning to go to the barn this afternoon, but since I was behind on work I decided to stay home and get caught up. Before I knew it, the skies were black and it was pouring. I assumed it would be another day like yesterday, where it never really let up enough to ride, so Michael and I made plans to see a late afternoon showing of Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen.

Naturally, by the time we left for the movie, the sun was coming out. I was hoping the weather would be yucky again by the time we came out of the theater, but alas, it was still sunny. We went out for dinner and spent the rest of the evening at a bookstore — and I battled with my guilt the entire time. I feel like if I wasn't working I should have been visiting Panama, and if I wasn't visiting Panama I should have been working.

Two years ago, when I first brought Panama to Denver, I visited him literally every single day. Even a year ago, I was still there nearly every day. This winter, though, I was down to once or twice a week — and even now, while my frequency has increased, I'm only visiting perhaps 3 or 4 times a week. I wish I knew what changed, and how I can get back to visiting daily. Heaven knows, I may not get as much done that way, but I feel a heck of a lot better!

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Dear Lisa

I mentioned several days ago that I was taking some time to cool off before responding to something. I'm ready to write about it now, and break the mysterious silence — but not without first seeking advice from friends and family on what to do, so that I don't write anything I'll regret.

Basically, Lisa of Laughing Orca Ranch posted on her blog publicly calling me out after she disagreed with some of my comments, and wouldn't let me comment in defense of myself. I was vascillating on what I wanted to do, so I forced myself to count to ten while I made up my mind.

Friends and readers also offered advice. For instance, Kate of A Year With Horses — a relatively new reader of Pony Tales Blog whose opinions (about all things) I respect very much, said:

Good plan - people sometimes take offense even when we don't mean to cause it - different people have different opinions but we're all on the journey with our horses, and that's what counts.

Whenever something bothers me, I try to remember to ask myself - "Will this matter in 5 years?"


She's right, of course. It won't matter in five weeks, let alone five years. But then there is the other side of the coin, as my friend and fellow freelance writer, Kathy Kehrli, noted:

To call you out publicly and then not allow you to give your side of the story is a violation of your first-amendment right--plain and simple. You are fully justified to give that side of the story on your blog. I'd say let it slide if she weren't allowing any comments on that particular post, but she's letting all the ego-stroking ones slip right on by.


Both make really good points. Though Lisa's actions were pretty hurtful to me, they also are pretty inconsequential in the long run. However, there is also the principle of the matter to consider, which is that she is censoring my defense of myself while approving all the "ego-stroking ones," as Kathy so aptly put it.

So after careful consideration of the advice I've received and my own feelings on the matter, I've decided to take the middle road: I won't post a childish tirade, but I also won't allow myself to be treated like this without standing up to defend myself. I think my comment says everything that needs to be said, but feel free to also read Lisa's original post on Polocrosse and the comments that follow if you are interested in reading the full story.

Katharine Swan said... (comment not approved)

Lisa, I didn't really think I said anything so bad that you would call me out, but here we are, so there are a few things I need to say.

Whether or not you approve it. I'll still know that you read it.

First of all, I'm sorry that I hurt your feelings about the photography. You are a very talented photographer, and I believe I've complimented your photos quite a few times.

However, I don't think my comment about polocrosse looking to me like a train wreck was an insult to your photography. I thought it was a reasonable observation, from my point of view, about the nature of the game.

And how did you respond? By calling me a worry wart and saying that it must just be me. Please think for a moment about how that could have hurt and frustrated me.

And then -- perhaps worse -- when someone commented that they had had a dear friend die in a polo accident, you wrote your comment about how life itself can be dangerous. I just don't think that is an appropriate response to someone else's loss.

I left the comment I did -- the one you didn't approve, but reposted here -- because I was so horrified that you would treat someone else's loss that way. Perhaps I shouldn't have said what I did. But I don't think I'm the only one.

I've enjoyed reading your blog and getting to know you. I genuinely like you. I love your photography. I look forward to reading your blog every day. But honestly, I think you may have being dealing out hurt feelings yourself more than you realize.



As a final note: The blogosphere is impossible to control. Whether you like it or not, the nature of a blog is commenting, conversation, and yes, debate and controversy — even on a personal blog. I know this, which is why I'm willing to post my response to Lisa and let it go. The only way to achieve perfect control over your blog is to make it private — or not blog at all.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Horse therapy

I often find that one of the best ways I have of making myself feel better is spending time with my horse. Unfortunately I was too busy with other stuff Monday and Tuesday, so yesterday evening I headed out to the barn for some horse therapy — even though I was already exhausted from spending the day at the amusement park with my 16-year-old nephew.

My horse peeking at me around the side of the tack room

My horse seemed really glad to see me. It was really sweet — for a while I just hung out in the pasture, trying to muster the energy to ride, and he kept coming over to me and checking me out, despite the big pile of hay in front of him.

My horse looking at me while he eats his hay

After a little while, I decided I felt up to riding. I groomed Panama (he was a bit dirty already from his bath on Sunday, but not too bad) and tacked him up.

We had a decent ride. At one point his head shot up into the air and his walk became really exaggerated; I looked over my shoulder and saw that a little girl and her grandmother had walked up to the fence where it borders a church lot. They said they wanted to watch, but Panama was quite nervous about them, so I rode him over to the fence to meet them. At first he wouldn't get very close to the fence, I think because they were just standing there staring at him. Then the lady started talking to him, and he seemed comforted by that, because he walked up to the fence and even let the little girl stroke his nose through the fence.

Then I backed him up and started riding him around. They watched for a few more minutes, and Panama seemed distracted by their presence: He was followed my directions pretty well, but kept wanting to turn his head to look at them. (Apparently no one ever explained to him that he's a horse, and he doesn't have to turn his head to look!) Though they had been good for training (both approaching something scary and working with a distraction), I was glad when they left.

Panama did well for a little bit longer, but then I noticed he was pulling on the bit. It was strange, because he normally doesn't do this, and it seemed like the more he got in trouble for it the more he pulled. I'm not sure if he was trying to tell me he wasn't in the mood to ride, or that the bit was bothering him — if I let him have his head, he stretched his head and neck out almost to the ground and yawned, repeatedly, every time.

Other than pulling on the bit, Panama was actually being pretty good, so I decided to let it go. Although he hasn't pulled to this extent before, it's possible the bit I've been using is a little too wide for his mouth. If he does it again next time I'll try going back to the rubber training bit and see if that helps.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Count to ten

I am practicing the art of giving myself time to cool down before blogging something I might regret. In the meantime, I urge my readers to remember there are always two sides to every story.

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Sunday bath

Today, Sunday, was a beautiful day. After scrambling to finish an article for a client, I went out to the barn with full intentions of riding. As I was grooming Panama, however, he seemed a bit crabby, and I remembered what a riding companion at an old barn told me once:

Only visiting your horse when you want to ride is like your husband only paying attention to you when he wants to have sex.

So I decided not to ride, after all. It seemed the sensitive thing to do.

About the time I finished up grooming Panama, it suddenly started to rain. This was completely unexpected because the forecast hadn't called for rain at all — yet the clouds were low and dark, the wind had picked up, and the rain started falling quite quickly at first. I unhooked Panama from his lead rope, leaving it tied around the post, and started heading to the barn in the front pasture.

Panama, however, had other ideas. He headed for the barn in the back pasture instead, and I followed. Both the other horses were already inside, but we made ourselves comfy under the overhang to wait it out.

Horses in the barn

It ended up not raining very much. The rain quickly subsided to a light sprinkle (with the sun out), so I started heading back to the front pasture. Panama followed me at first, but then I realized he was lagging behind, and turned around to find him doing this:



I'd already been thinking about giving him a bath — his first of the season, actually — and since our ten-minute storm was already clearing, Panama's little rollfest made my decision for me. I got him to follow me back to where his lead rope was still tied, brushed the loose dirt off of him, and gathered the things for his bath.

The bath went pretty well, considering Panama had to stand in a puddle for most of it (something he hates — we both miss the wash rack at our old barn!). He put up with me washing him right up to his jawline. (I don't hose his face. I meant to wipe it with a damp sponge today, but completely forgot.) He was even being affectionate, and seemed to like it when I washed and rinsed his withers and shoulders, as he kept turning his head to nuzzle me when I was at about that point.

After I had him clean, I took him into the yard to dry him where it wasn't muddy. I also wanted to distract him with grazing so that he wouldn't think about rolling.

My horse grazing after his bath

It worked. He was more than happy to find himself knee-deep in green grass, and immediately went to work on it. While he grazed, I toweled him dry as much as possible, put Cowboy Magic leave-in conditioner in his mane and tail, and brushed it all out. I was thrilled at how white he was.

The neighbor's puppy, of course, thought this was all very interesting.

Horse and dog

I let Panama graze until he was completely dry, to minimize the risk of him rolling right away when he got back into the pasture. I know he'll probably be dirty again by tomorrow anyway, but at least I prolonged the vision of cleanliness a little!

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

I got a new horse book!

iconiconMichael and I spent some time hanging out at a bookstore Friday evening, and while we were there I got another horse book: Horse, Follow Closely by Gawani Pony Boy.

I wasn't intending to buy the book. I sat at our table in the café and read it, but when it was time to go, I found I still couldn't put it down. So I decided that was a sign I ought to own it.

I'm now rereading it from beginning to end (instead of jumping around, as you do when you're browsing in a bookstore). It's a beautiful book, with gorgeous pictures, native legends, and an easy-to-read format.

Those of you who have been reading my blog for several months probably remember my take on natural horsemanship, but basically I tend to pick and choose which principles of NH I think are worth adapting into my personal philosophy of working with horses. This is no different — the author says some things that I find worthwhile, and others (such as minimizing verbal cues) that I disagree with. (I find verbal cues work extremely well for Panama and I, but perhaps that is because he's a fairly talkative horse himself.)

I'll write more about the book itself later on, but for right now let me just say that its main focus (forming a relationship with your horse) has made me realize a few things about why Panama and I are able to work together the way we do. I know full well that I am not an exceptional rider — as I mentioned yesterday, I didn't ride much as a kid, and apparently didn't learn as much as I thought either, because I've had to relearn everything as an adult. Heck, I can't even canter comfortably yet!

Despite my limitations, though, I feel like I am able to do things on Panama beyond what my riding skills should allow. I can get him to do what I want, sometimes with a virtually effortless flow of thought from my body into his. I knew I was getting better at communicating things to him, but I hadn't actually made the connection in my head about our relationship making up for where my riding skills fell short of the mark.

Now that the idea has been introduced, though, it makes perfect sense. I've always been focused on my relationship with Panama more than anything else. The vast majority of our interactions have been about bonding, not training or working. As a result, I've got a horse that will put his nose into the halter for me, who comes to a casual "Com'ere," and who responds with an undeniable affirmative (sometimes even nodding his head) if I ask, "Do you want a treat?"

When I think about it this way, it's all very reassuring. I may never be a stellar rider, but that doesn't matter to Panama. He understands me anyway!

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Horseback riding memories

A fellow blogger and a past winner of one of my horse book giveaways, Pam of There is a Horse in My Bubblebath, blogged today about childhood horseback riding memories. Although her post was in response to a giveaway another blogger was doing, it seemed to me like a fantastic idea in its own right.

I haven't mentioned much before about my history — or lack thereof — with horses. I don't have the background that many of my readers have — many of you grew up with horses, maybe even taking lessons and competing as a child.

I, on the other hand, never had any formal training. A family friend, a young woman who was 10 years older than me and rode competitively, taught me how to ride when I was about 12 or 13. I don't remember exactly how many "lessons" I had with her, but I don't think it was very many, as I had to relearn most of it when we started Panama a year and a half ago. Other than that, I've gone on less than half a dozen trail rides — and that was the extent of my horse experience.

I do remember that horseback riding seemed easier when I was a teen — I don't remember even having to think about trying to stay on. Maybe kids have better balance, I don't know.

Anyway, one memory that really demonstrates the difference between riding now and riding then was when the family friend took me to Chatfield Reservoir for my first trail ride. We trailered her horses there, and I rode Tar Baby, her stubborn old mare who preferred Western. Wendy was leading on Toffee, a grey Arab mare who rode English (and the main reason I'm so fond of Arabs — I loved that horse).

Suddenly Wendy announced that there was a log in our path, and we were going to jump it. Of course, I'd never jumped before, but she said just to lean forward and Tar Baby would do the rest of it. She was right, but of course I got the pommel in the gut — not hard, because it was a little jump, but a pommel in the gut nonetheless.

When I think back on it now, I can't even remember how I survived my first jump. Heck, I can't remember how I cantered back then without falling off. (I still have yet to master the canter as an adult, but that's a subject for a future post.) But apparently I not only survived it, but also enjoyed it, because I clearly remember the adrenaline rush and the ecstatic laughter that followed.

Amazing how easily things come to us as children, isn't it?

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Threatening rain

Today has been grey, overcast, and WINDY all day. According to the forecast, we have a 70 percent chance of rain, with thunderstorms and potentially very heavy rain possible. It certainly seems to be threatening all that, but so far we have yet to see it.

Despite the wind, I got a pretty good — albeit short — ride in today at the barn. Michael came with me to help me put the mini fridge in the tack room (more on that later), and the plan was that he would stay while I rode. Unfortunately, I'd forgotten my camera, so there was even less than usual for him to do. (Because heaven forbid he interact with the horses...) He looked so miserable the entire time that I cut my ride quite short so that I could get him out of there.

I worked primarily some more on getting Panama to maintain a steady pace, first at the walk and then at the trot. It really was too bad that we had to cut the ride short, because he seemed to unexpectedly "get it" right at the end there — our last lap or two around the pasture was virtually perfect.

One thing that I think is making a difference is that I am making a real effort not to just make the same circle around the pasture every time. I figured the best way to keep him from speeding up is to make sure he doesn't always know what is coming next. That way he has to pay attention to me, instead of anticipating what comes next and trying to rush through it.

I mean, I've got to figure — if I get easily bored with "arena" riding (in quotes because technically it's pasture riding!), he probably does too.

We also crossed the practice bridge several times — from the other direction this time, as I wanted to make sure he would do it just as well going the other way. He did, of course! I'm going to have to start stopping him at the top of the bridge and making him go down the other side slowly, though, because he's not controlling his speed downhill and inevitably ends up trotting the last few steps.

Anyway, as I rode over to where Michael was standing and dismounted, I realized how dark the sky had been getting the entire time I was riding. We never did see any lightning, but I suppose with how windy it was, it wasn't entirely a bad thing that my ride was cut short.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

What NOT to do when grooming someone else's horse

I think I've mentioned before that the alpha gelding at my barn is rather ignored. The 13-year-old girl who moved into the rental next door (the pastures span both properties) has been bugging the barn manager/landlord to let her groom him.

Hmmm. I think there's a big difference between grooming a mane and chopping it off. Particularly when it's NOT YOUR HORSE.

Horse with short blunt-cut mane

In this case, the owners don't come out often enough to notice, let alone care — but I've been growing rather attached to the alpha, so I was outraged. Poor horse. He had such a lovely mane, too, with the exception of one spot where he'd rubbed it short sticking his head between the fence rails. And now it's all gone.

If this had happened to Panama, I would be seeing red. (Which, incidentally, is why I always make sure it's understood that my horse is not to be ridden, groomed, or even treated by anyone except me.)

What about you? Does anyone besides me think this is a glaring violation of the prescribed etiquette when handling someone else's horse?

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We need to talk.

It's 10 am. Do you know where your horses are?

Horse in a barn

Waiting for their breakfast...

My pony's tail

...And starting to get a little desperate.

Horse eating weeds

Lately I've been noticing that the horses are being fed later in the morning than they used to be — like about two hours later. Ten o'clock is a bit late to be getting their first meal of the day, I think — particularly since they get their dinner around 5 or 6 pm.

Another concerning factor is that I've noticed the property owner often has a drink in his hand — and it's getting more and more common. There are times when I suspect he is blitzed, though I can't say for sure. I've been thinking it might have something to do with his late mornings.

I don't want the morning feeding to keep getting later and later, so I decided to have a little talk with the property owner today. I arrived this morning around 9:30, and waited to see what time he fed them. He came out at probably about 10:15 or so.

The problem is, he's been letting them out on the yard first thing, before they get any hay. The instructor who gives lessons on his mare commented that she didn't think that was a very good breakfast for them. I looked it up online, and found several sources that said horses should get hay first, because on an empty belly they are likely to graze too quickly. As you can imagine, for horses that aren't accustomed to grazing as their main source of food, bolting down high-protein green grass spells C-O-L-I-C.

The property owner agreed to start feeding them their hay first, and letting them out to graze as a treat later on. Then I brought up the delicate subject of his drinking. I told him I was worried about the horses, but also about him. I know he's been working through some hard times in his personal life, and I don't think he's handling it very well, but I also am worried that if he's drinking a lot the horses' care is going to slip.

I did mention the morning feeding time, with the hopes that simply drawing his attention to it will work. If he can make sure it doesn't get any later, I'm fine with a 10 am feeding time — as long as it's hay, not grazing, and as long as it doesn't get any later. (I've mentioned to him before that if he feeds them later in the morning, he should also feed them later in the evening. I'm not sure he's taken my advice there. I'll deal with that another time.) I also told him that I was concerned that if he's drinking, he may not be able to adequately deal with an emergency situation.

He vaguely reassured me that he's not drinking too much (definition, please?), and that the horses' care won't suffer. I feel marginally better, but I'm going to keep tabs on it, and if the situation continues to worsen, I'll move Panama. How much this guy drinks on his own property really isn't any of my business, but it is my business how he runs his business — i.e., whether he's doing what I'm paying him to do, which is to provide my horse with a safe home. The whole situation sucks because I love the location, but that one feature simply isn't worth putting my horse in danger!

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Horseback riding

I forgot to mention my ride yesterday in my previous post.

I rode Panama before working on the trailer yesterday, partly because I think he loaded better the first time, after he had worked up a good appetite from our ride. It made him really want that grain... and being reminded of his manners probably helped a bit, too.

Speaking of manners — yesterday he started out being a real pill. We worked quite a bit on not speeding up at certain points. He was doing it even at the walk, so I had my work cut out for me. I had to do something unexpected every time he sped up — turn him, slow him to a walk, make him halt from the trot (which, incidentally, he did faster than when he halts from a walk), etc. After a while, when he no longer knew what to expect from me anymore, he stopped speeding up quite so much. I decided that was good enough.

We also practiced with the bridge again, and today Panama didn't hesitate one bit — we rode straight up to it from all the way across the pasture, and each time he just walked up and over. Last time I rode, he still balked when we walked straight up to it from across the pasture, so this was definite progress.

Finally, we worked a bit on backing up. We've had a hard time with this lately, and today I realized why: It has to do with what command I use. He knows the command, "Back," said in a low voice, because that's how I say it when I'm on the ground with him. But if I say "Back up" in a slightly sing-songy voice (as I tend to on his back), he has no clue what I want him to do. So I changed my command, and now he's doing just fine with it!

I think (I always forget to time it) we rode for longer than usual today. I lost track of time because we had so much to work through, but it was a good feeling. I also feel like I'm getting much stronger and smoother in my posting. I'm so much happier now that I've been getting to ride regularly!

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Trailer loading progress!

Once again, I forgot to take pictures. It's just too hard to manage the camera while I'm also trying to convince Panama to get into the big horse-eating box on wheels.

Anyway, we made some progress today. I decided to start out by putting his grain on the shelf again, just like yesterday didn't happen. Panama thought about it pretty hard, but wouldn't put even one foot into the trailer. Eventually I gave in and put it on the trailer floor, but pushed all the way back so that he couldn't reach it without stepping into the trailer.

Amazingly, that worked, and after trying for several minutes to reach the grain without stepping up (you should have seen him stretching as far as he could, even with his lips!), he finally took a step into the trailer.

The first couple of times he looked around uncertainly and backed out. But it only took twice. After that, he took two steps in and started eating the grain. He still backed out between bites, but slowly, not like he was panicking or anything.

When he got down to where he was just licking the bowl for stray grain, I moved the bowl to the ground just outside the trailer, and while he ate I played with the far door. Panama didn't even flinch. I closed and latched the door. That was fine, too. Then I moved the bowl so that I could close and latch the other door, the one that had bumped him yesterday. No biggie.

Please excuse me while I breathe a sigh of relief that he's not going to hold a grudge against the silly door...

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

My new saddle stand!

Yesterday I bought a used folding saddle stand for $15. I've wanted one for a while, so that I could finish organizing the tack room the way I want it.

(Why is it that we have 6 saddles and only 3 horses?)

I've tucked my saddle stand beneath the wall rack that I was using, and put one of the saddles that was being stored on the floor on that rack. Mine is the brown English saddle with the green pad beneath it.

Folding saddle stand

This should leave plenty of space for another saddle stand or two against the same wall. The barn owner is supposed to build a couple more. Heaven knows his own personal little junkyard has enough scrap wood to build almost anything he could dream up.

I'm really excited about having my own saddle stand at last — not to mention getting it for less than half of what the tack stores around here sell them for. It's old and the rack at the bottom for a grooming tote is a little rusty, but it works just fine.

I found it by advertising on ColoradoHorseForum.com that I needed one in that price range. It's a great online community, and I highly recommend the site to all Colorado horse owners!

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Making up lost ground

Today we had a setback with the trailer loading practice. It was disappointing, especially after how well Panama did on Sunday.

It started out just fine. I set the grain on the shelf, just as before, and Panama stepped into the trailer right away. He ate several bites and backed down again.

He did this two or three times. The last time, though, the wind blew the door on his side toward him. I'm not sure how far closed it went but I think it might have brushed his rump and legs. Suddenly he was in an absolute panic to back out of the trailer. He got out and ran about 15 feet away, and stood there staring at me and the trailer accusingly.

I'm sure he was thinking, See, I told you that thing was dangerous.

After that we wouldn't eat his grain off the shelf anymore. He stepped in with two feet a couple of times, but not far enough to get to the grain. Every time he looked around him uncertainly and then backed out again.

I felt terrible for not realizing that the wind was blowing hard enough to move those doors. They don't exactly swing easily. But regardless of whether it was my fault, I now had another phobia to contend with: a newfound fear of swinging doors.

I tried so hard to get Panama back into the trailer, and he really tried too — he really wanted that grain, but every time I thought he was going to try to make a play for it again, one of the doors would move and he would bounce away like a rabbit. I then tried tying one back, but of course the damage had already been done. It's not like I can explain to him that the doors don't move when they're tied.

Finally I decided to work on desensitizing him to the doors. While I was trying to get him into the trailer, he kept smelling them, pushing them with his nose to get them to swing, etc. Once he and I played several rounds of a game where we were each on opposite sides of the door, taking turns pushing it back and forth. He was obviously concerned about them but still very curious, so I decided he was trying to tell me that he needed more work in that area first.

So I gave in and put his grain on the floor of the trailer, where he could reach it with out stepping into the trailer. While he ate, I sat on the edge of the trailer deck in the other stall and lazily swung the door back and forth. At first he'd bolt every time, then look at me and see I was (apparently) relaxed and daydreaming (I was making a point to avoid eye contact), and come back to his grain. Gradually his spooks subsided to a little jump-and-check-Mom's-face. He's not completely over it, but by the time he was done with his grain he was much less concerned about me swinging the door back and forth.

I think next time I need to stand him in front of the trailer and practice swinging the door so that it actually touches him. That exercise is going to be much more difficult but he has to get over his fear of the doors before I can make any more progress with him in the trailer.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Trailer loading practice

I mentioned last night that yesterday after my horseback ride, I practiced loading Panama into the trailer.

It has been a while since we've worked on the whole trailer loading thing. The last time, Panama pulled the trailer off the block, and I hadn't done anything with it — including putting the trailer back on the block — since.

But yesterday I decided to go ahead and do it, probably inspired by Lisa's comments. I jacked the trailer up, wedged a cinder block under the hitch, and used that to support the trailer while I jacked the wheel back down and slid the block underneath. It didn't take all that long, and I'm ashamed it's taken me six months to do.

Then I went ahead and cleaned out the trailer. It has tons of old hay in it, which my trainer advised me to clean out when she loaned me the trailer, but which I hadn't done yet. It was pretty gross.

Luckily, the horses hadn't had their grain yet, so I had the perfect incentive. I grained the other two horses, and then walked across both pastures holding Panama's grain bowl, and him dancing impatiently alongside me the entire time. When we got to the trailer, he stopped up short, like, Oh. I opened the doors, put his grain bowl on the shelf, and then came back out to halter him.

Despite everything that he went through moving to this place, and despite dragging the trailer by accident back in January, Panama was a pretty good sport about having to eat his grain in the trailer. He somehow managed not to get all four feet in, though. The most we got was three.

He started off slow: step up with one foot, step back down, step up with two feet, step back down, etc. It took several minutes for him to work up the courage to reach his grain at all. When he finally got to it, he literally stuffed his mouth with grain and then backed out of the trailer to chew it. But by the time he finished his grain, he was standing there for several bites at a time, and only backing out for a moment when he needed a break from standing on his tip toes.

Because that's what he did to get to his grain — he stood on his tip toes. He would get his front feet in the trailer, and then strrrretch so that he could get his nose into his grain bowl without putting both back feet into the trailer. (Once he did bring one back foot in, but only once.) This was quite a challenge — and quite a comical sight — for a horse that is just 14 hands tall and wears a 64 inch blanket!

I think we'll have to use grain to get him into the trailer a few more times, and then I'll start training him to load up without the grain. I just want to first get him to the point where he's comfortable eating his grain in the trailer — with all four feet in there with him!

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Another successful ride and productive day!

It's been a great weekend! I was able to ride both days, and I feel like we accomplished so much!

My ride on Panama was another short but very productive one. We worked on a lot of the things we worked on yesterday: keeping a steady pace, and crossing the training bridge in the pasture. He's doing much better at going in a straight line, so we didn't have to focus much on that.

Keeping a steady pace, though, is still a bit of a challenge. Panama has certain spots where he likes to speed up, and I swear he's developed a new one. This one is heading away from the front pasture, so there goes my barn sour theory.

Today, every time he sped up at the trot, I circled him back around (still trotting) to just before he sped up, and made him do that part again. Usually he slowed back down as we circled (probably because not knowing the destination made him pay closer attention), and then I'd check him with a light half-halt as we went into the spot where he was speeding up. Usually that worked, but sometimes he'd speed up again once we were back on track, and we'd have to make the circle again.

All in all, though, I think he's beginning to understand what I want of him. I think I'd better get him to control his pace a bit better before I take him off the property, though, as he'll be more likely to want to rush in the open field.

We also went over the bridge several more times. The first time I rode him straight up to it from across the pasture. He halted right in front of it, and stood there like a dunce for several moments before he (I assume) remembered that it didn't try to eat him yesterday, so therefore it must be okay. After a couple of false starts, he went right up and over, but rushed a bit going down the other side.

I circled him around, and we went over the bridge twice more. By the third time, there was absolutely no hesitation whatsoever!

I only rode Panama for about 15 or 20 minutes. I get bored fast in the pasture, so our rides tend to be just long enough for me to work on two or three things. That's definitely something I need to work on. But today, I had an excuse — as you can see in this picture, the sky was pretty dark, and I felt a few drops toward the end of our ride. As it turned out, the storm waited until about an hour after I got home to really open up. But I only out later that there were funnel clouds spotted over downtown Denver (just 30 minutes north of where I was) at about the time of my ride.

Before I left, I also did some trailer training, but I'll save that post for tomorrow morning!

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My horse has a new 'do!

Panama's mane has been flopping over onto the wrong side a lot lately. I think the wind has been blowing it over, but it seems to be training itself to go both ways now, and it's annoying me. So I decided to put his mane in loose braids to retrain it back the way it should go.

My horse's mane in braids

I think he looks pretty cute like this, don't you? I just wish his mane would grow longer — they are such short little braids!

I had another very productive and satisfying day. Stay tuned for a post on all our accomplishments today!

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Future barn cat

Future barn cat

Well, not really — Prince is an indoor cat. But he looked so cute sleeping in the sun by the back door that I had to find a tie-in for the picture.

I keep my cats indoors now because about eight years ago, when this one was young, I almost lost him. I decided then that I couldn't risk something happening to him, and started keeping him indoors. Prince is deaf as a post and rather special, if you know what I mean — not retarded-special, but utterly clueless. He's also loyal, uniquely quirky, and of course gorgeous.

What other four-leggeds do you have, besides horses?

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Making strides

My husband needed the car this afternoon, but I was able to get over to the barn to ride around late morning, after we walked the dogs.

When I arrived, the barn owner had the horses out in the next door property's yard, mowing the grass for him. (He owns both properties; he rents the house next door, and uses the pasture behind it, which I call the "back pasture," for the horses. The pasture on his main property is the "front pasture" because it's a corner lot, and has a side entrance that goes directly into the pasture.) That was all the breakfast they'd had yet, though, so I thought Panama might be a little cranky about being tacked up and ridden. To my surprise, though, he seemed fine with it, though he did keep an eye on the hay while we rode.

Our ride went really well. Panama was responsive and well-behaved, and I was able to post for longer periods of time without tiring. One thing I'm having to work with him on, however, is maintaining a steady pace, particularly at the trot — he tends to trot faster as we round the far side of the back pasture, and start heading back to the fence between the two pastures. He was doing it Thursday, too, so it wasn't just that his breakfast was waiting for him over there!

I think habits like these could be the beginnings of barn sour behavior, which I don't want, so I'm working on it now. Each time he did it, a gave him a series of really light half-halts, while saying "Eeeeeasy." He knows when I lunge him that that verbal command means to slow his trot (or canter), and sure enough, he seems to be responding to the combination of command and reins when I'm on his back. It'll be nice when I don't have to remind him so much, though.

Another thing we worked on today was getting him to go in a straight line down a certain side of the pasture. It may be related, but he has a hard time staying straight when heading away from the front pasture, particularly when we are riding clockwise. He tends to zigzag a bit — I think because he's trying to position himself so that he can see what's going on in the front pasture. So I made him go back and forth, back and forth about a half dozen times today until he was able to stay straight the entire length of the pasture.

The final thing we worked on was crossing the bridge. In the very back of this pasture is a wooden bridge that a previous tenant had built to train his horses to cross bridges without fear.

Training bridge for teaching horses to cross a bridge while trail riding

Panama has crossed bridges before on the trail, but I've never made him cross this one. My trainer did cross it with him a few times, but that was probably 6 months ago.

When we first approached the bridge, Panama got so far as to put one foot on it, but then he put on the brakes and backed up. I laughed at him and nudged him back to the bridge. We approached it perhaps four or five times, and each time he got a little braver — getting both front feet on the bridge, sniffing the hand rails, even scratching his face on them! The entire time I kept up a running commentary: laughing at him when he backed up (because he knows my laugh means everything is okay) and encouraging him to try again, and praising him every time he went forward.

I know some people say if they give their horses time to look, they will actually become more scared, but it's the exact opposite with Panama — he will mentally work through his fear if I give him the time to see that whatever it is won't hurt him. It was the same with the bridge. After approaching and sniffing the hand rails a few times, he walked right up and over!

And actually, he would have lingered at the top and looked around, but I kept him moving. The bridge isn't very wide, and I know from experience that it freaks him out when my leg brushes up against something. The last thing I wanted was for him to spook in that narrow space, as it would have been potentially very dangerous for both me and him.

Even though we didn't ride for very long, it was still extremely satisfying, as I felt like we accomplished a lot!

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Friday, June 12, 2009

Getting stronger!

I am happy to report that I am far less sore after my ride last night than I was after last Saturday's ride. There's still a little bit of soreness in my inner thighs, but it's pretty minor compared to the debilitating pain and stiffness that kept me from even walking properly until about Wednesday.

In fact, I'm so happy about not being sore that I'm planning to ride again this evening, after Michael gets home from work. (Providing our sunny weather doesn't subside into thunderstorms, of course.) That will be about four hours from now — I can't wait!

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

A very satisfying ride

I had planned to go over to the barn with a friend and ride this afternoon, but it thundered and rained all through the early afternoon, so I really thought it would be another day of not getting to ride. (It rained yesterday evening, when I would have liked to go to the barn.) But by the time my friend arrived, the sun was out and it had stopped raining, so we got to go to the barn after all!

The instructor that gives lessons on the barn owner's horse was there, helping her student tack up. She complimented my cleaning job in the tack room, and let me know what tack she uses. Then her student rode while I groomed and tacked Panama up.

I was pleased to see that the swelling in his rear fetlocks had indeed gone away, just as the vet said it would:

My horse's rear fetlock, after the swelling went away

About the time I finished tacking up, the instructor came back with her student, so I took Panama into the back pasture to ride him. He was being a bit of a pill at first, but he settled in okay. Both of us were noticeably stronger at the trot than we were last weekend. Building muscles is slow going, but it's fun to see progress, small though it may be.

I didn't ride long, so when we came back from the other pasture the next student was about done tacking up. The instructor commented that Panama looked really good out there, and asked if I've ever jumped him.

I laughed. "No, he's just turning four this summer," I said. "We haven't gotten there yet." (I'm pretty sure Panama could handle jumping just fine. It's me I'm worried about.)

"Wow, he's only four? He looked really good out there for four!" the instructor said, and I thanked her.

I can't even tell you how good that made me feel. My Panama looked good enough that she thought he was more mature than he actually is! I believe my horse is extremely smart and well-behaved, but I'm also aware that I'm probably pretty biased, so it always makes me feel really good to hear other people say so too.

Panama seemed pleased too, and was acting very cute after I untacked him. We had a minor crisis when the alpha gelding (who was evidently feeling left out, with both of his pasture mates being groomed and ridden) decided to walk straight into the tack room to look for grain. Getting his head out of the grain bins, and getting him out of the tack room, without getting kicked or crushed was quite the challenge.

I finished up the day by paying a bit of attention to the alpha. I've been working on getting him to let me handle his ears — which is actually why he was feeling so left out when I was brushing Panama, because he wanted attention. Now that he's getting some, he's remembered he likes it!

So I decided today was as good a time as any to put fly spray in the alpha's ears. And he actually let me! It took some time and coaxing — I had to snuggle his face and give him lots of praise and reassurance between sprays — but eventually I got enough in his ears so that flies started dying and falling out. Poor guy — they had really set up house in there.

After that, it was time to go. I gave Panama and the alpha a couple treats each (that alpha thinks he's my horse now too, I'm telling you), and we headed back to the house to meet my husband and go to dinner. A very satisfying day — both because of my ride and because of the progress I made with the alpha!

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Barn first aid kit

I've recently been thinking of putting together my own first aid kit for horses. In the past I've always depended on the barn to have such things, but the place I board at now doesn't have anything like that.

So when my vet was here on Tuesday, I asked him what I ought to have on hand for emergencies. He gave me two different lists of stuff to have: medications and wound treatment supplies.

Medications:

* Bute
* Banamine
* Colic shot (2 ml Rompun and 2 ml Torbugesic)

The bute he says is primarily for joint type of issues, whereas banamine is for gut and soft tissue pain. Also, he said that banamine can prevent a mild colic from becoming serious. He says both are actually good for about a year to a year and a half past the expiration date, which means that I'll have to replace both of mine in the fall.

The colic shot is something he mixed up for me in a syringe. He says that in case of an emergency colic situation, it will relax the horse and buy us about four hours, just in case he is a couple of hours away or on another emergency call at the time.

The colic shot lasts about 5 years refrigerated, and only about 1 year at room temperature, so obviously it is much better to keep it in the fridge. This poses something of a problem for me, though — if I keep it at home, it's not where it needs to be, and if I keep it in the barn owner's fridge, I may not have access to it if he's away from home. He does have a fridge in his garage, where I would have access to it, but he won't let me put the colic shot in there until he cleans it out — and heaven only knows when that will be. So for now I'm keeping it at home.

Wound care supplies:

* A rubber tourniquet (he suggested a bicycle inner tube, cut into strips)
* Vet Wrap
* Elasticon (like an ace bandage, but sticky)
* Cotton roll/sheeting (for bandages)

Now remember, he was giving me a list of emergency stuff, so he didn't include stuff like betadine or topical ointments. I personally always have betadine for cleaning open wounds, and I have a spray antibacterial called Furall that I like quite a bit. I'll probably also add gauze or another kind of pad to my first aid kit, as well as a supply of clean rags. (You can get a dozen white washcloths at Target for a couple of bucks — perfect for barn use!)

So what is in your first aid kit?

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Horsey Headlines for June 10, 2009

It's been a while since I've done my Horsey Headlines — I totally forgot that I was supposed to be doing them in the first place! Whoops...

Here's a fun story about Denver's great big blue mustang with glowing red eyes that greets travelers on their way to and from Denver International Airport. The journalist tries to argue that controversy about people not liking the artwork is just as good as people liking it. I'm not so sure about that, and I have to admit, I'm not a fan!

Apparently on Sunday, a horse was attacked by a dog at a Maine race track. The horse ran into a dumpster and died as a result of his injuries. The race track has responded by banning dogs from the race track.

And it seems that horse racing is popular in Iraq. Who knew?

Here's a nice reminder to vaccinate your horses against West Nile. Apparently Washington is leading the rest of the U.S. in equine West Nile cases. If you haven't already vaccinated, you'll need to do it ASAP: I was asking my vet about it yesterday, and he said that West Nile vaccines really need to be done no later than June 15 in order to be effective by the time West Nile season (August and September) rolls around.

And here's just a nice "evergreen" sort of article, about feeding horses properly.

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Follow-up vet visit

My horse's swollen rear fetlock

My horse had his follow-up vet visit today. Each of the horses (Panama, the alpha, and their girlfriend) got their eastern and western encephalomyelitis. As I mentioned in the post about the spring vet visit last month, my vet likes to give this shot separately from the West Nile, as he says he gets a much lower reaction rate that way. Panama will get a booster for the eastern and western encephalomyelitis in the fall, and then starting next year he'll get the full dose every fall.

I also asked my vet about Panama's swollen fetlocks (see the picture above). You may remember that I skipped riding on Sunday partly because I wasn't sure what was causing the swelling. My vet says he's not concerned, though, since Panama isn't lame and doesn't have an injury. He said the swelling should go away on its own, and suggested I lunge Panama to help speed it along.

By the time the vet left and I finished cleaning out the tack room, though, it was late, I was hungry, and Panama was eating his dinner. So I decided to leave his workout for another day. But although I didn't get to ride Panama, I did ride my bike to and from the barn today for the first time. I'm still stiff and sore from my ride on Saturday, and I'm not so sure the bike ride helped. What I really need is a few more days of riding Panama, so that I can push past the soreness and start rebuilding the muscles in my thighs. Hopefully that'll be soon — providing I can find the time to ride over the next few days!

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Sunday, June 7, 2009

Busy day at the barn

Michael and I went out to the barn today as planned, but several things conspired to keep me from getting to ride — namely, a ride and some mysterious swelling in Panama's rear fetlocks. However, we got a lot accomplished in the tack room and spent a couple of hours out there total, so all in all it was an enjoyable visit to the barn.

We decided to work on the tack room first. All of the tack has been hanging on nails, which isn't good for leather, so taking a tip from Stable Smarts I picked up some baby food jars on Freecycle. Michael nailed the lids to the wall, and then we screwed the jars back onto the lids. The result: halter and bridle hangers that won't put creases in the tack.

Baby food jars used as halter and bridle hangers in the tack room at my barn

While Michael was hanging the jars for me, I rearranged the tack room. (I had started to do this last fall, but never finished.) I moved all the saddles and tack boxes to make the best use of the space, hung the blanket rack I found on Craigslist a while back, and swept. I still have a little left to do (such as get my own saddle stand), but for the most part what we accomplished today is a vast improvement!

While we worked in the tack room, Panama stood in the doorway and watched off and on, as if waiting for me to finish up and pay attention to him. So when we finished, I just slipped the halter on him and tied him up at the post right next to the tack room door to groom him.

Grooming my horse

Brushing my horse's tail

(See the way Panama's head is cocked to the side and down? When he begs for treats he puts his head at that angle and bobs it up and down. I had my glove off so that I could reach into my pocket for a treat, and he knew it!)

In the second picture, you can also see how dark the sky was getting behind us. While I was grooming Panama, we started hearing distant thunder, which was one of the reasons I decided not to ride. I've heard you shouldn't ride when there is lightning, though whether it's because of the danger of a strike or because it might spook the horse, I don't know.

The other reason I decided not to ride is because I noticed both his rear fetlocks were a little swollen. I had actually noticed it yesterday, but there was no heat in the area, so I assumed it was just caused by the sudden heat, kind of like people getting swollen knuckles. But today it was the same, and he seemed a little reluctant to have me touching the joints, so I decided it was a second sign that riding today was not a good idea.

(Actually, technically it was a third sign — the very first thing I noticed, even before the thunder, was that Panama's back was a bit sore along the spine from our ride yesterday.)

Instead of riding, I took Panama to my makeshift wash rack in the back pasture (a hitching post and a rubber stall mat to keep his feet out of the mud) and hosed down his fetlock joints for about 10 minutes on each side. He stood so quietly that I think it must have felt good! Michael got bored of watching me hose down Panama's legs, though, so when I got home I found the following pictures on my camera:

My husband Michael

Hey look — it's Uncle Monkey!

My husband making a monkey face

(A word of advice, babe: If you don't want me making fun of you on my blog, then don't take pictures of yourself making monkey faces with my camera!)

Once I finished hosing Panama's legs down, I had Michael take him back to the front pasture while I untangled and coiled up the hose. The whole time, Panama stood in the open gate between the two pastures, right where Michael had released him, watching me rather intently. When I started walking back, he nickered to me several times, and then came forward to greet me, which made both Michael and I laugh. I think I may be biased, but he is seriously the cutest horse I've ever known!

It was a wonderful visit, and I'm already planning the next one — so I've got to make sure I get out there tomorrow too!

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Saturday, June 6, 2009

Back in the saddle

Back in the saddle

I am happy to say that today, at long last, I finally got a ride in.

I haven't actually ridden since late February or early March, I think. Things kept coming up: too much work, bad weather, too muddy to ride, etc. So you can imagine what a big deal it was to ride today.

It was a gorgeous day — sunny, dry, and at 82 degrees, the hottest we've had in a couple of weeks. (We've had a lot of rain lately.) I went out to the barn around 4:00 pm, and spent nearly two hours there.

It was ridiculously windy when I arrived (it's supposed to storm tomorrow), but I decided to take my chances and ride anyway. I tried to get a lovely picture of Panama standing in front of the barn, looking at me, with his mane blowing in the wind, but before I could whip out the camera he decided to come seek out some attention. So I took that as a sign, and just haltered him instead.

Dirt pasture gets d#mn hot with the sun beating down on it, so I decided not to take Panama into the back pasture to groom him — the post I tie him to back there is in full sunlight. So instead, I tied him up right next to the tack room — and was surprised how much better that worked. Early on I'd been worried about the other horses harassing him when he was tied, but he's been fully accepted into the herd now (even by the alpha) so they left him alone. And it was really quite nice not having to haul my saddle out to the back pasture.

I still was going to ride him in the back pasture, though — I'm not such a dummy to ride in a pasture with a bossy alpha milling around. He might let their girlfriend (he and Panama share) do it, but he still picks on Panama enough to make me think that would be a very bad idea.

Anyway, I neglected to close the gate between the pastures, and by the time I finished tacking Panama up, the alpha male had wandered back there. So I walked into the back pasture, Panama in tow, and started clucking at the alpha to drive him back into the front pasture. He started going where I wanted, and then stopped. I decided I couldn't be quite aggressive enough about waving my arms and clucking with one hand holding Panama's reins, so I draped his reins over his neck (I haven't taught him to stand ground tied), told him to stand, and went at the alpha clapping and waving both arms.

To my great surprise, Panama didn't try to follow me or wander off, but just stood there watching. I kept checking him over my shoulder, though, and once I got the alpha moving I went back for him, praising him like crazy. I was too worried that he'd freak out, or wander off, and I'd have to go catch him before his reins caught on something — but I was still awfully proud of him for standing stock-still on command!

So with Panama in tow again, we drove the alpha into the front pasture and shut the gates behind him.

Then — finally — I was able to ride. I mounted and was thrilled that Panama didn't do his usual trick of walking forward as I swung my leg over. He got lots of praise for standing still! Just to prove it wasn't a fluke, I dismounted and mounted again — and he stood still again. Good boy, Panama!

We didn't ride long, and we took it pretty easy. I could tell after all winter and spring of not riding much, not to mention three months off, Panama was having to relearn his balance while carrying me again. He moved a little tentatively at first, so we walked several circles around the pasture in both directions to let him adjust.

Then we picked up a trot... and wow, both of us are out of shape! The muscles in my inner thighs quickly got fatigued while posting, and I could tell by the way I had to remind Panama to keep trotting that he was getting tired too. We didn't ride long, perhaps 15 or 20 minutes — but it was quite long enough, judging by the way my legs feel tonight!

We just worked on some basic stuff — framing up, going where I asked him to go, transitioning from the walk to the trot and back again, stopping, changing directions, backing, and turning on the forehand. It took a couple reminders to get him to respond to leg commands, especially with the turns on the forehand, but I thought he did really well. Just like how he didn't walk forward when I mounted, he stopped quickly on whoa and a little light rein — and this in itself was amazing, as he usually is something of a blockhead about stopping.

I felt like I was doing well, too. I felt like my heels were beneath me and down, the way they should be, though I was having a hard time telling how still my lower legs were while posting. My legs aren't as strong as they were, so I'm guessing that part wasn't great. I also could feel that I was sitting deeper in my saddle than usual (I have a habit of tensing up and squeezing my thighs so hard that I pull myself up in the saddle), and I think that might have made a difference in backing and stopping.

I've more or less talked Michael into going out to the barn with me tomorrow, so I'm going to try to get him to take some pictures and some video footage of me riding. We're also going to put up some homemade bridle and halter hangers in the tack room, and hopefully get the trailer back up on its block so that I can practice with that too. It should be a busy day at the barn!

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Friday, June 5, 2009

Eleanor is now a very rich horse

Did you guys hear about the South Dakota rancher who won the Powerball? He and his family (the kid is only 23!) raise sheep, cattle, and horses on their ranch. Apparently they're pretty poor — they don't have a phone, and are several years behind on their property taxes.

An excerpt from the article:

Wanless told lottery officials that since winning, he has spent his time preparing to bale hay and doing other jobs around his family's ranch. He said he intends to continue ranching, albeit on a larger plot of land.

He said he recently told his horse, Eleanor, that "It'd be nice if we go for a longer ride than usual on a bigger ranch of our own."


Well, it seems he's gotten the means to fulfill his dream, and Eleanor is now a very rich horse!

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Horses and weight management

One thing the barn owner and I talked about on Wednesday was the horses' weight. They all seem to be losing weight, and I am concerned.

I think it mainly has to do with the last load of hay the barn owner got. This hay was terrible stuff — not very green, and apparently so bad that the horses would leave it uneaten when they weren't super hungry. I suspect the nutrition content wasn't very good, either.

The barn owner did get some better hay to mix with the bad stuff, but he wanted to use the bad stuff up. And, really, what do you do in a situation like that? You have to do something with it.

Luckily, the bad hay is gone now, and the horses are eating from a fresh batch of nice green hay. But all the horses have lost weight. Panama could afford to lose some, as he was quite round from being overfed this winter; but the barn owner's mare (Panama's girlfriend) is ridden several times a week, so she took it the worst. You can see her ribs and her spine is sticking out of her rump near the base of the tail. (The alpha gelding has a little of this too, but not as bad.)

I suggested to the barn owner today that he start giving each horse an extra flake of hay every day until they gain back the weight they've lost, and he immediately agreed. I don't think he would have made the decision on his own, though, so I'm glad I brought it up! Poor mare!

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

A reminder to be careful whom you donate to

Today Fugly Horse of the Day posted on a horrific fundraising scam where someone was fundraising in the name of a local horse rescue, but then not turning over the donations.

I think this is a good reminder to be careful who you give donations to. I agree with some of the commenters — I don't "donate" to the cans out in front of the supermarket. No telling where that money is going to.

Probably the safest way to go about donating to a non-profit organization is to give them the money directly. A check placed directly in the hands of a trusted employee, for instance. Or a PayPal payment sent via the button on their website — once you've verified that the website is legitimate, of course.

It makes me sick that there are actually people out there that would take advantage of the generosity of others, but since there's nothing we can do about it, we had better do our research before making a donation.

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A belated update

Remember that situation with the people I know who were letting their horses' hooves get too long? Well, I think I forgot to mention it, but we put some pressure on them to get it taken care of — and about a week later, they did! So their horses are good to go now.

I remembered that I still owed you an update because it was actually my farrier they used, so I was able to get some information from him yesterday.

My farrier confirmed that it was the one horse's overgrown feet that was making him appear lame. He also confirmed that I was right when I said it was really bad — another 3 to 4 weeks, he said, and the horse's hooves would have started curling up at the toes. And at that point, he said, you usually have to have a vet out to sedate the horse in order to trim their feet, because they are in so much pain.

My farrier made me feel pretty good, because what he had to say confirmed two things:

1) I know enough about horses and their feet to recognize when they are dangerously overgrown, and

2) I was right to put some pressure on those people to get their horses' hooves trimmed.

My farrier also indicated that they will need to keep on a regular trim schedule for a while. He said that because the super long toes were rocking the horses back on their heels, they'll need to have their feet trimmed on time for a while in order for their ligaments to recover.

In other words, our job is not done here — in another 7 or 8 weeks, we'll have to start laying on the pressure all over again!

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The post about Panama's farrier visit

I mentioned earlier that today I had Panama's farrier visit. I also had a very nice, long conversation with my farrier.

Panama's trim went very quickly, despite the fact that we were unable to find a place that wasn't muddy. The really interesting thing was our conversation.

I had a lot of questions for my farrier today. One thing I've been meaning to ask him, but kept forgetting until today, was what he thinks of Panama's conformation. Since Panama was backyard bred, and since I know nothing about conformation, I've always wondered whether he is proportioned correctly. My farrier said he is a good, sound horse and his conformation is just what it should be: straight back, strong rear end, sloping shoulder, and head not too big. He said the only thing that is lacking is the musculature, but that is because he is young — he'll acquire muscle as I work him and as he matures.

Needless to say, I was happy to hear that my horse has good conformation!

My horse's conformation

I also asked the farrier what he thought about my vet's suggestion that Panama might have some Paso in him. My farrier doesn't agree. He says that his size might seem that way, but his feet are really different than a Paso's feet — and who knows feet better than a farrier? Also, my farrier mentioned that since Panama is not gaited, it's unlikely that he is Paso (as Paso breeds are gaited).

I really enjoy chatting with my farrier, especially when I learn something from the conversation. I know my way around horses, but there is plenty that I still need to learn, so it's good for me to pick someone's brain once in a while!

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A beautiful day at last!

Like many of you, in Denver we've been plagued by rain and thunderstorms lately. It has been rainy on and off for days, and yesterday it was dark and rainy all day. Enough of the rain already!!

Today, however, was gorgeous — a perfect day for my farrier appointment. In fact, it was such a nice day that I got rather carried away, and spent four hours at the barn. Here's the quick rundown of how I spent my time:

* Chatting with the barn owner as I waited for my farrier
* Holding my horse for the farrier
* Chatting with the farrier (a very nice, hour-long conversation, by the way)
* Chatting some more with the barn owner
* Grooming Panama
* Weighing all three horses with my weight tape
* Chatting some more with the barn owner
* Moving the ground poles and makeshift jumps left out by Panama's newest girlfriend's owner, who moved her horse on Friday but left all her crap in the middle of the back pasture

Obviously, I love being outside and at the barn — not just spending time with my horse, but doing anything, really. And I've been rather lax about getting out there recently, so I was definitely due for a good long visit. Too bad it was too mucky and muddy to ride!

I've got some additional commentary on some of the above things — stayed tuned for future blog posts. It was just too much to fit into a single post!

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

OT: Get your dogs and cats fixed

I know it's a little off-topic, but I just read this riotously funny — yet kind of sad — article on the responsibility of cat ownership. Cat overbreeding is a serious subject, but the writer does an excellent job of poking fun at the way some unenlightened cat owners try to duck responsibility.

Obviously the horse world isn't exactly the same, since we (usually) don't sterilize mares, but there are still plenty of people with this lax view of their responsibilities as horse owners. It's a sad fact that many people choose not to geld their horses, either because they think it raises their coolness factor to have a stallion, or because they have mistakenly decided that what the horse world really needs is more backyard-bred horses.

Do you know people like this, who either don't care or try to pass the responsibility onto someone else's shoulders — whether it be dogs, cats, or horses?

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It's not only about protecting yourself

I admittedly don't wear a helmet when I ride. Like many people, I learned without a helmet, and have spent a lot of time riding without one, so it never seemed all that necessary. Even after my more serious falls, I wasn't badly injured and it never seemed like a big deal.

But recently on another blog, I read a comment that put it into perspective for me: It's not only about protecting yourself. The point of wearing a helmet is also to protect those who depend on you. That could be a spouse or your children, but at the very least it is the horse you are riding.

It never occurred to me in quite this way before. The issue has come up, though — after this fall last summer, when Panama (unintentionally) ditched me into oncoming traffic, I made my mom promise that if something ever happens to me, she would help Michael with Panama's care, so that he wouldn't have to sell him. (It's my income that pays for the horse expenses.)

But of course, isn't it better to wear a helmet and protect Panama — and Michael — from this even happening in the first place?

It's funny how a single comment can put things into perspective. I'm not rushing right out to buy a helmet, but it's on my mind. I probably won't wear a helmet all the time, either, but definitely whenever I take him out on the trail and when I start working on cantering again.

I'm interested to hear from readers. Do you wear a helmet? If so, do you wear it all the time, or only sometimes? What are your criteria for deciding whether you need to wear a helmet?

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