Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Call me chicken

Cute chicken picture

For the record, the cute chicken picture was not taken by me. It came from my favorite stock photography site, stock.xchng, which offers a pretty good selection of copyright-free photographs you can use on your blog and other publications. I don't normally borrow other people's photographs for my blog posts, even when it is perfectly legitimate; but I don't have access to cute chickens I can photograph, and I desperately wanted a chicken picture for today's post.

Anyway, I had my session with my trainer today, but I utterly failed to canter. My trainer was happy with my improvement in leg control, and was giving me some tips in preparation for cantering, but the more she talked about it the faster my heart rate went.

To try to make me feel better, she got on and cantered Panama a few times, just to make sure he was behaving himself — it's been months since he's cantered under saddle. He was fine, so I got back on, but then Panama was excited and kept trying to go fasterfasterfaster, so I rode him around a bit to get him to stop expecting the canter.

And then I rode him around a bit more.

Finally, my trainer said I was stalling (and I admit it, I was), and gave us something else to do: ground poles. She set up three ground poles on the ground, parallel to one another, and had me walk Panama over them. Then we trotted, which was fun and kind of bouncy when he lifted his feet really high to clear the poles! Next she set the middle pole up on top of a tire on each end, and had me trot him over them.

That last setup took Panama a few times to figure out. The first time he plowed right through it (the pole is PVC and pretty forgiving). After that he started figuring out how high he needed to lift his feet to clear it. The last couple of times he did quite well, and my trainer seemed pleased.

Of course, when I got home I went from being happy about the ground poles, to being extremely disappointed with myself for caving to my fear of cantering. I don't know why I'm so afraid of it — it's not like I've never cantered before. I just haven't cantered intentionally on Panama before. Plus, my seat and leg strength are way better than they were the last time I cantered on a horse.

But I'm still scared.

My trainer says I'm over thinking it, and I agree. I've built it up in my mind to being this frightening, dangerous thing. The question is now, how do I get over the hurdle when I've created most of it myself?

MINE

When I got to the barn yesterday evening, one of the first things I noticed in the tack room was that my lunge line had been used and messily hung up in a different place.

Then I noticed that the alpha gelding's halter was on the hook my lunge line had been hanging on.

It took another moment of staring at my grooming tote to realize that Panama's dandy brush wasn't in it. I found it in the alpha horse's tote instead.

I think what happened is that the alpha's owners, who rarely (if ever) visit, actually paid their horse a visit. And apparently, since they're never there they either forgot, or never learned, the number one rule of barn ettiquette: Don't use other boarders' things. Unless it's an emergency — which it wasn't, as there are plenty of other brushes in the tack room. Why did they have to use mine?

This isn't the first time my stuff has been used. The neighbor girl, the one who cut the alpha's mane, has used my lunge line a couple of times to lunge the alpha. (She has permission now from his owners to work with him a little. Not a good idea, in my opinion, because she doesn't know what she's doing. But I suppose at least he's getting some attention now from someone other than just me.) Either she or the girl who gives lessons on the barn owner's mare used my dandy brush once, too. The worst, though, was that about a month after I moved Panama to the barn, my super-soft face brush up and disappeared, never to be seen again.

The weirdest of all was the time that the riding crop went missing. I don't use it, but the instructor was looking for it, and left me a note on the dry erase board. We both hunted high and low for it, only to get a note a few days later from the barn owner that he'd had it. Ummmm... Where? And why? Wait, don't answer that...

It amazes — and frustrates — me that I'm now at the smallest barn I've ever boarded at, yet I'm also having more problems with other people using my stuff than I've ever experienced before. I know part of it is that the barn owner has an amazing collection of tack and grooming supplies that he has allowed everyone to use willy-nilly, and therefore no one realizes that some of what's in the tack room now is actually mine (and apparently can't read, either, since I put Panama's name on virtually everything).

I'm really irritated about my stuff being used, which makes me feel a little bit like a two-year-old who has just learned the concept of "Mine!" Unfortunately, I don't really trust people to do the right thing and replace anything they damage — and sharing brushes between horses can spread skin conditions, or so I've heard.

For those of you who board or have boarded, would you agree that using other people's stuff is against proper barn ettiquette, and would you be annoyed about this too? Or am I really just acting like a toddler with a possessive streak?

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Riding in the rain

Today was a cool, overcast day. I actually slept in quite a bit as a result — having lived in Colorado for most of my life, I'm quite heliotropic (meaning my moods and habits are influenced by the sun), so my half-asleep brain couldn't grasp the concept that it was late morning, not early morning.

The forecast had called for rain, but the day was actually quite dry. When Michael got home from work, therefore, he went out for a bike ride while I went to the barn to ride Panama.

I didn't have very long, as Michael and I were planning on going out for dinner once both of us were back, but I was still able to accomplish a few things during our short ride. We did a lot of trotting to start out with. I hadn't been riding for long, when I suddenly realized it was beginning to sprinkle. I had such a groove going that I'd been hearing the rain hit the ground for several moments before it occurred to me that I was getting rained on. And even when I realized it was raining, I didn't want to quit riding, so we just kept going.

I've ridden in the rain briefly on a trail ride before, but it wasn't any demure little shower. It was a crazy, rain-blowing-sideways kind of storm, and actually one of the times when I've been impressed with how well Panama handled himself. I could hardly see, yet he kept right on plodding along after our trail partner and her horse.

This time, though, it only sprinkled on us for 5 or 10 minutes before stopping. It was a liberating feeling, to keep riding in the rain — does anyone else enjoy that? When the shower ended, Panama's neck and butt was spotted with rain, the top of my head was wet, and the saddle had water beading on it where it wasn't covered with my legs — but we were no worse for wear.

Panama and I also practiced stopping, standing, and backing a bit more. He was doing much better halts today, and although he did need a few reminders to wait for my signal to go again, he was doing much better than yesterday. I also discovered that if I only ask him to back up a few steps, he backs straight — it's when I keep asking that he starts backing crookedly. However, I took Kate's advice on backing and, instead of correcting him, just kept his head in line with how I wanted the rest of his body. Sure enough, after a few steps sideways, he usually righted himself.

After some backing practice, we practiced halting a few more times. Panama was behaving himself quite nicely, and I was pretty much out of time, so I decided to stop for the day. Tomorrow I have a session with my trainer — weather permitting — and we'll find out whether she thinks I've gained enough leg control to start cantering. I'm not so sure, but then again, that might just be the nervousness talking!

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ch-ch-ch-changes

It rained like crazy on and off yesterday, hijacking my original plans to ride in the evening, so I took the time to make some long-awaited changes to my blogs.

On Pony Tales Blog, you'll see that the titles to the posts on the main page are now also links to the individual post pages. I've also revamped the sidebar to include a link to my site feed (atom.xml), a more prominent copyright notice, and some different ad formats and placements.

Also, I believe Google AdSense now does some limited tracking of your activity online to decide what ads to place on the pages you visit. Most ads on the big news sites do this too. If you don't want advertisers tracking what you search for online, you can block the tracking cookies by resetting the security level in your browser, or delete them periodically using your antivirus software or manually by opening up Control Panel and choosing Internet Options.

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Counterintuitive

It rained buckets last night. When I got out to the barn this afternoon, Panama was filthy. Why is it that getting rained on makes him dirtier rather than cleaner?

Dirty horse

Our riding session was a bit counterintuitive toward the end, too. I started out just trotting him around the pasture, practicing the posting exercises my trainer is having me try. I also practiced breathing and holding in mind the rhythm of the pace I wanted, based on some of the things Kate has been blogging about lately in her series of posts about the Mark Rashid clinic she audited.

It all worked perfectly. Panama seemed to know exactly what I wanted or needed, and maintained a nice, steady, comfortable trot the entire time. He even stopped speeding up in the spots where he usually does — meaning that Kate's breathing trick immediately fixed what I've been working on for weeks! Wow — thanks, Kate! I knew I should have tried this sooner!

After we'd been trotting for a while, he started pulling on the reins a bit. Also taking a cue from Kate's posts — in this case, the one about getting softness — I tried the little mental trick of mentally creating an opening for him to come back to me. (In fact, I found I was saying softly to him, "Come back to me.") I can't explain it any better than Kate did, but it really did work — within seconds — almost every time!

We'd been doing really well, so I decided I would practice a few full stops, and then we'd quit for the day. That's when the whole thing went to pieces. Panama was having a hard time stopping, and when he did, he wasn't standing — as soon as I released the pressure on the bit or told him "Good boy," he started moving forward again. Talk about frustrating! So I started working on getting him to stand and wait for a command, rather than trying to anticipate what came next.

During this part, I got frustrated with him and asked him to back up, to come back to where he'd been when I initially stopped him. He walked diagonally, sideways, everything but straight backward. So after we worked on standing and waiting, we then started to work on backing.

This part turned out to be an exercise in frustration, and the other reason for the title of this post. Panama KNOWS how to back. He's known how for a long time. But I think he was sensing my frustration, and physically translated this into a ridiculous little sideways/diagonal dance every time I gave him the command to back. When I'd try to nudge him back straight again with a leg yield, he'd immediately switch and start walking forward.

Panama was getting just as frustrated as I was, tossing his head and swishing his tail. He knew I was trying to get him to go backward, so he started even ignoring my command to stop — he'd just keep going! Then at one point, he started to "get it," so I praised him — and he promptly started running diagonally backward again. Arrrgggghhhhh!

It took probably twenty minutes, but finally Panama "remembered" how to back. He backed in an almost straight line when asked, and stopped when asked. I immediately praised him, dropped the reins, and let him stand and stretch his neck a bit. After a moment, I took up the reins and asked for it all again, and he did it perfectly once again.

I figured twice in a row was good enough, so I walked him around the pasture a little on a loose rein, halted him (without any problems this time), and then dismounted. As soon as I got down, I hugged his neck and loved on him a bit, so that he knew I wasn't mad at him anymore!

It seems we have some things to work on next time, for him as well as for me. Next time I ride, in addition to practicing my posting, I am going to practice our turns around the forehand. The reason being, I cue him for this by sliding my foot slightly back, and using leg pressure to move his back end around his front. I'm hoping that if I practice this with him, and then practice backing, I can help him draw the connection that leg pressure may also be used to straighten him out while backing.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

When horses are smarter than we are...

I rode Panama a bit yesterday afternoon. I had a friend there and it was hot so I didn't ride for very long, for my friend's sake as well as for mine and Panama's. We were all in the blazing sun and I didn't think that was very good for any of us.

Anyway, I worked a bit on the exercises my trainer assigned on Wednesday, but because I didn't ride for very long, I don't think I made much progress. However, I have a funny story to share, one that shows how smart horses really are — they pick up on things we never intend them to.

I've noticed in the last week that I've suddenly developed a problem with Panama starting to trot when I don't want to. Sometimes I was about to ask him to, other times I wasn't. For days I couldn't figure out what was going on, and just assumed he was over-eager to trot.

It was during my training session that it occurred to me what might be going on. During my ride yesterday I realized that, without a doubt, my suspicions were right.

Apparently, I've been unconsciously saying to myself, "Okay," right before I ask Panama to trot. It's not loud, and it's not meant for him, it was just how I vocalized the mental side of my preparation before asking for the trot.

So Panama picked up on this, and started responding to the "Okay" instead of the cluck. (Panama is very sensitive to commands — obviously — so I don't use my legs much when asking him to trot. He seems to prefer the cluck to a nudge in the sides.) That's why he was trotting before I even asked him to. Also, I tend to say it at other times, too, which is why he was starting to trot sometimes out of the blue.

Like I said, I started to realize it on Wednesday, but not until my ride yesterday did it fully hit me that I am going to have to consciously change my habits. So part of our ride yesterday was also me practicing not saying "Okay" before asking him to trot. It's interesting to watch his response — I can tell by the way he swivels his ears that he's surprised by the absense of the "Okay."

It never ceases to surprise me how smart horses are, and how sensitive they are to cues you probably don't even know you're giving them. One thing is for sure — working with horses makes you more aware of all the little unconscious things you do!

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Back in training

Not Panama — me.

It's been a long time since I've had my trainer out. Now that Panama is reasonably trained, we were starting to work on me a bit more. For example, we were starting to work on getting me to canter. Which I still don't do.

But then we took a long break. She had a baby, and I had a not-very-horsey winter and spring. I blanketed Panama and visited with him, but I didn't do the latter very often — and the riding not at all.

So earlier this summer I started up riding again, with the goal of getting back into riding regularly. You might remember how sore I was at first! But I wanted to be sure I had built up some strength in my legs before my trainer came out again, not to mention I wanted to do some other things like start trail riding again.

Because I wanted to work on me, and therefore wanted Panama not to be too distracted, we rode in the pasture today. To start my trainer had me do a couple of laps, to see where we were at. She immediately noticed that my stirrup leathers have stretched and needed to be taken up a notch, which was interfering with my posting. Luckily there was one more hole in them, and we were able to do so right there.

She also observed that I was relying on my stirrups too much when posting, and had me do some exercises to get me to use my legs more. She started off having me sit two beats, and stay up two beats. That was HARD. Then she had me sit three, and post one.

I still wasn't quite getting it, so she had me drop the stirrups and just walk, but with my legs in the correct position so that I could feel the muscles I was supposed to be using. It seemed to work, because after that I started controlling my posting more. At the end of the session, she said I was doing much better, and that if I can practice that as "homework," we should be able to canter next time.

Yay!

(Scary!)

My trainer also said two things that made me feel really good. She had brought her baby with her, and when Panama was checking him out I commented on how gentle he was being. My trainer agreed, and said he was a favorite of hers among the horses she'd started, because he is so laid back and easy going. Oh! I am so proud!

The other thing she said was that we looked really good for having taken the winter off. That meant a lot to me because I feel like I've made some real strides since I've been riding again. I feel like my awareness of both his body and mine has increased exponentially, which has allowed me to do some fine tuning when I work with him. What my trainer said indicated that it's not just my imagination, Panama and I are working well together.

Now I've just got to be sure that over the next few days, I make time to practice the exercises my trainer had me doing today. I am excited about the prospect of cantering, but I'm nervous too, so I want to prepare as much as possible!

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The farrier and the trailer: A big day!

Panama had a big day today: He had both a visit from the farrier, and a session of loading practice in the trailer.

The farrier visit went great, as usual. Panama is totally unconcerned by the farrier now, which is huge considering how fearful he was of farriers after he was twitched by an impatient farrier as a yearling. (That was while he was on my in-laws' property. If I had care of him at the time it never would have happened!)

Today my farrier also did the barn owner's horse, and the alpha gelding (whose care the barn owner is in charge of arranging). I held both horses. The alpha gelding was remarkably well behaved, which I think might have something to do with the attention and handling I've been giving him lately. The mare also did well, particularly considering the last time she got her feet done, the farrier the BO had been using took too much sole off, and she was lame for days afterward.

After a lengthy chat with the farrier, a friend came over to help me with trailer loading practice. I still need someone on the ground to help remind Panama to keep his feet moving. He is still fine with putting two feet on, but at the start of every session he balks at first and has to have that little nudge to get him going again.

Today I started trying a bit more aggressively to get him on a bit farther. For the most part this meant encouraging him to step farther on with his front feet (instead of keeping them near the edge), or taking another step with his back feet once he got his front feet on (in preparation for getting all the way on). We also had to work some more on backing off calmly, as he starts bolting backward again when he senses that he's under pressure to do more than he's comfortable with.

He did get all the way on once. I'm not sure exactly how it happened — my friend waved the plastic bag (we used it again today for a little bit) just right, and he just hopped all the way on. He stood there looking all around, and I fed him a couple of treats. I could tell he wanted to keep looking around, but I also could tell that he was tense and afraid to move, so I decided to back him off before he made a move to rush off.

Panama is confident about backing in general, but today it became clear to me that he's worried about backing over the edge of the trailer. When he backed off the trailer he was standing on his tippy toes in the back, taking quick little steps, clearly feeling for the edge. When I get him up there again, we'll go a bit more slowly. I was thinking that I'll teach him a signal that lets him know when he's at the ledge, so that he doesn't have to worry so much about where he's putting his feet.

I am going to wait until he's more comfortable in the trailer before I try turning him around to unload head-first. Right now I'm not so sure he can handle turning around inside the trailer. There's a panel that rattles quite a bit and makes him nervous, and I'm afraid of him freaking out mid-turn and hurting one of us.

Anyway, even though I didn't get him all the way on the trailer after that once, I still feel we made good progress today!

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Another ride in the field

Today (Monday) I took Panama on another ride in the field across the street from the barn. He did really well — so well, in fact, that I'm beginning to think he's more ready to hit the trail by ourselves than I am.

I took this picture the other day. In it you can just barely see the narrow road on the other side of the pasture fence, and the field beyond that.

The field across the street from the barn

We park in the field right off the road. In this picture you can see the soccer field and park that is on the other side of the field. The big trees just beyond that border the trail. Further to the right, the field meets up with the trail, so that's the way I'll ride when we get to that point. (We're not supposed to ride on the soccer field.)

The field I ride my horse in

This evening's ride started out a bit rough — the flies were really harassing him, and I'd run out of fly spray so he didn't have enough on him to keep them off. He kept whipping his head around to bite at flies on his shoulder, which would make him swerve to one side or the other as he was walking. Or he'd kick at his belly, which would hump his back up suddenly and cause me to pop up into the air. I felt like I was riding a drunk horse — or a pogo stick!

I had been trying to get him to walk and canter in a roughly arena-sized circle, but the flies — and his reaction — were making it so impossible that I gave up. Instead, I had him walk back and forth across the field, testing his comfort zone by making him go farther than before. Around this time, either the flies started leaving him alone, or he became so interested that he stopped bothering with them.

Since he was no longer fussing over the flies (which tends to make him really uptight when we're riding), I was able to see that he isn't nervous at all about riding in the field. Oh, sure, he pays close attention to everything, and tends to walk really quickly if I don't slow him down, but he's excited rather than nervous.

There were still a few things that gave him pause, but every time we ran across something like that I made him practice it until he got it right. For instance, crossing a set of tire tracks that are worn into the field concerned him at first. In one place he was actually thinking about jumping them, since they'd worn a little ditch into the ground, and I don't think he could gauge his footing very easily. But we went back and forth a few times, and he seemed to figure it out.

And then there was the funny moment when I realized we had passed near a plastic bag several times, and he hadn't noticed it any more than I did. It was a clear bag, just lying in the grass. I thought maybe he was only okay with it because it didn't move, so after our ride, I hand-grazed him in the field solely for the purpose of coming across that bag again. I deliberately kicked it, and he didn't so much as flinch. Then it got stuck on my toe for several steps (which I hadn't intended), and he still didn't seem bothered, even when I lifted my foot and shook the bag off.

I think we've got the plastic bag thing covered.

I really do think that Panama is ready to hit the trails by himself. In fact, I think he's been ready for a while, and I've just been missing the signs — or (more likely) I've just lacked the confidence to go through with it. It's a huge step, going out on the trails alone. It's going to require putting together a trail first aid kid and remembering to pack my diabetic supplies (primarily my blood glucose meter and some candy or glucose pills for an emergency). And it's also going to take a huge leap of faith that both Panama and I can handle being alone on the trail.

I'm not going to just ride into the sunset or anything. I plan to take this step by step. We still haven't made it all the way across the field to where we can pick up the trail — I think we'll do that next time. After that, we'll try going a little farther on the trail each time.

This is so exciting — much more interesting than riding in the pasture, and I can tell Panama feels the same way!

Hand grazing my horse

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Trailer loading - step by step

Today I was originally planning on riding in the field some more, since Michael wasn't going to be able to help me with the trailer loading practice two days in a row. However, we made such good progress yesterday that I was eager to practice some more.

This time I roped my mom into helping. We had a little snafu early on because she was being a little, er, overzealous with the plastic bag. It produced an unfortunate display of temper from me, which I immediately regretted because it temporarily made Panama worse at loading — I think it scared him that I got mad, since I rarely do around him. I think he thought I was angry at him.

Anyway, once my mom and I got things figured out, our practice session went smoothly. I purposely didn't try to get Panama to put all four feet on; instead I focused on getting him to get two feet on, and then back down in a calm and controlled manner. I did this by rewarding him with a treat for putting two feet in, then saying "easy" and "back" in a quiet voice. He quickly learned that when he waited for my command and backed down slowly, he was rewarded with another treat, whereas if he rushed it he didn't get a second treat.

Once he had that down pat, I started waiting to reward him until he got his front two feet a little farther into the trailer. He had been stepping up fairly close to the edge, and I wanted him to get half his body inside. I also rewarding him for waiting with his front two feet in the trailer while I told him to whoa.

I think he really understands now that I want him to wait and back down slowly, and he is showing a lot more confidence in where he is putting his feet while he backs down. Also, he no longer needs the bag — he is responding to clucks and the command, "Step up." When he does balk, my helper lifting the crop just a little or very gently tapping his butt with the end is enough to get his feet moving again.

I have to say, it feels SO good to be making progress! Next time I'll start encouraging him to step progressively farther into the trailer, with the hopes of getting a third and perhaps even a fourth foot in — but just a little bit at a time, so that he doesn't get back into the habit of rushing his "dismount."

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Trailer loading progress!

Today (Saturday), Michael went to the barn with me to help with trailer loading practice. As a result of today's work, I've come to the conclusion that Panama is never going to get into my trainer's trailer without a lot more forceful coercion than I'm willing to dole out — but we made some really awesome progress using the new boarders' stock trailer.

I credit a lot of our progress to a fellow blogger's helpful advice on keeping the feet moving. There aren't enough little stones around our barn to use the way Kate describes, so I opted for the alternative: a plastic bag tied to the end of a stick (in this case, a crop).

Kate was worried about scaring him too much with the bag, but I said I was more worried that Panama wouldn't fear the bag enough for it to help. Turns out I was right, and all that desensitization has worked. He seemed annoyed about the bag, and perhaps a touch anxious as to what we were doing, but when he had his feet planted you could smack him on the butt with it and he couldn't care less.

We worked with my trainer's trailer for a bit first, as the new boarders weren't there and I didn't want to try theirs without them being there. But after nearly an hour, we weren't much closer to loading than we were at the beginning — despite the bag and the treats I was giving when he did well, we hadn't gotten any further than bumping his legs against the edge of the trailer and half-picking up one foot.

About that time, luckily, the new boarders arrived. I asked if we could use their trailer. Within minutes Panama was putting his front feet on. Sometimes he'd plant his feet instead of stepping up, but a little shake of the bag acted as enough of a reminder to get him moving again. Once he got all four feet in, but since it's a stock trailer it rattles a lot, and he literally stood in place and shook like a leaf for a few moments before hurriedly backing out.

I quickly realized that before we worked really seriously on getting all four feet on, I was going to have to work on him backing out slowly. He reared his head up and rushed it almost every time, and twice he knocked his noggin on the roof. Not hard enough to injure him, but still, I wasn't going to wait for it to get worse! So instead of pushing him to get all four feet in, I started encouraging him to stand calmly for increasingly longer periods with two feet in, giving him a treat when he did so, and then telling him to back out so that it was done in a calm manner.

Although we only got all the way in once, I have great hope for future sessions. Working with the nice, roomy stock trailer was a walk in the park compared to working with my trainer's trailer — even despite the rattling noises it made.

I don't know if I've mentioned it before, but my trainer's trailer is probably the smallest trailer I've ever seen. It's a two-horse trailer so small that my small horse — who wears a 64 inch blanket — can eat grain from the shelf with only his front feet in the trailer. It's narrow, too, and has a partition down the middle. I'm thinking that with his history of trailers, he's going to have to learn to be comfortable loading and unloading on a roomier trailer before he ever willingly loads onto anything that small.

Basically, what this means for me is that I'm always going to have to be aware of this when transporting Panama. I'll have to choose transporters who have roomy trailers, for one thing. And if I ever get a trailer of my own, it'll have to be a stock trailer or a roomy two-horse trailer, preferably one without a partition.

Still, if that's what it takes to get Panama to overcome his fear of trailers, so be it. It's a small price to pay for progress, in my opinion!

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Waylaid plans

I went to the barn this evening with the intention of riding Panama in the field again. Unfortunately, the barn owner was just feeding him when I arrived — bad timing on my part — so I decided to just hang out and watch the horses eat. There's something so calming about it...

My horse eating hay

The two new horses have been combined with the other three now, and although it has ruffled the alpha's feathers a bit, the five of them are working things out.

Horses eating hay

The two new ones look like twins, don't they? They are actually different breeds, but both have the same odd color fur — light brown and dark brown intermingled for kind of a tortoiseshell effect. It was evening when I took the picture, so it didn't capture their interesting coloration at all.

Anyway, I was planning on letting Panama eat for a little bit and then riding him — until I realized he had a fresh bite the size of Texas in the saddle area. The picture doesn't show it, but in addition to the abrasion, it was pretty swollen.

Horse bite

I don't know if the alpha gelding did it — he's chasing everyone around, since he's upset about the new horses — or if it was the new gelding. Panama has been trying to befriend the new mare, so it could very well be the new gelding, who is rather protective of his lady. My horse is a homewrecker, heh...

Shortly after finding the bite, I also noticed a cut on the inside of one front foot. It was caked with dirt, and he wasn't crazy about me checking it out, so I decided I'd need to clean it before I could tell how bad it was.

It's a dark horizontal line extending back toward his heel — see it?

Horse hoof injury

When I cleaned it out with betadine and water, I found it was only a surface cut, so I just flushed it with cold water for a bit and then put some furacin on it.

I'm hoping the bite on his side will heal quickly, so that I can ride him out in the field again. Tomorrow, however, we're planning on doing some trailer work. Wish us luck!

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Affordable alternatives to horse slaughter

The other day, Fugly Horse of the Day posted with a link to a HSUS database of humane horse disposal options by state. She asked everyone to cross post and share the information as necessary.

This is huge. One of the biggest arguments that I hear from the pro-slaughter camp is that slaughter is the only way for unwanted horses to be affordably disposed of.

Well, actually what they mean is that horse slaughter is the only way for someone to make money on disposing of a horse.

Euthanization is pretty affordable. A bullet to the head is even more so, and if the person knows what they are doing, the horse won't suffer. But neither of these options bring a paycheck.

I hate the idea of euthanizing animals, but I support it when there are no other options — and I recognize that for many horses in this country, there are no other options.

However, euthanization also needs to be humane, and horse slaughter will never be humane as long as it is for profit. As long as everyone involved is thinking of the bottom dollar, corners are going to be cut, and it'll be the horses that suffer for it.

So next time someone pro-slaughter tells you that horse slaughter is necessary because it provides the only affordable way to dispose of unwanted horses... you know what to say in response.

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The bit problem

In my post last night, I forgot to mention that I figured out the solution to the bit problem.

You want to know what the problem was? It's slightly embarrassing, because I was spending time worrying over something that was my fault, not his.

I had his bridle on too tight.

I'm not sure if his head has grown, or if I accidentally put it back together one notch too tight after oiling it last time. Perhaps a little of both. But anyway, that's why he was pulling on the bit. And it turns out it had something to do with why he wasn't stopping quickly when I pulled on the reins — probably the bit was already pulling a bit on his mouth, numbing him to the command a bit.

In any case, once I loosened the bridle a notch on one side, he did beautifully riding in the field — he responded much more quickly to my whoas, and only pulled on the bit once (and not the same way as he was before, either). Problem solved. I'm so glad!

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

The final word on the horse property

You all have been so supportive while I blogged about our attempt to buy horse property. Unfortunately, it turns out we won't be able to do it.

It's not about Michael not liking the neighborhood, or his commute to work being too long. (We test-drove it Monday morning and it was actually better than both of us were expecting.)

It's because of money, of course.

Technically, we can afford it. Our plan was to rent out our current house. I know there would have been some tight months when we were between renters, but we could have done it.

The first thing we found out was that there are no longer any zero down mortgages. We got an 80/20 loan when we bought our house three years ago, which is where the purchase amount for the house is divided into two loans — 80 percent in one, and 20 percent in the other. This keeps (or kept, I should say) you from having to pay a down payment or mortgage insurance. We couldn't have bought this house without a loan like that, so learning tthat the rules have changed so drastically makes me grateful we became homeowners when we did.

Having to come up with a 3.5 percent downpayment might not have been a dealbreaker, but it certainly would have made it difficult. The real dealbreaker is the new rules regarding rental properties.

Basically, we can't get a mortgage for a second house, even if we are going to rent the first house, unless

1) we can qualify with both mortgages on our current income, not counting rental income, or

2) we have 30 percent equity in the home and 6 months' worth of payments in the bank.

Pretty stiff rules, if you ask me. I know they want to make really sure that the only people buying houses now are the ones who can really afford to, but honestly I think we can afford to — we just don't have 30 percent equity in our current home, or that much in savings. But realistically, I'm already paying a whopping amount per month for horse boarding — so as long as we had our first house rented out most of the time, our finances would be pretty much the same as they are now.

Of course, I have some thoughts about how these restrictions are affecting the already-troubled housing market, but I won't go there in this post.

So for the time being, our horse property search is stalled — but we're not giving up. We have a plan for putting some money aside, so that next time we find horse property we want, we will have some more resources available to us!

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Taking the next step

Last night when I was talking to the new boarders, I expressed relief when they invited me to ride with them sometime. I mentioned that I'm not crazy about the idea of trail riding alone, partly because I'm afraid Panama will spook and lose me.

"Is he jittery about the bicycles?" they asked.

"No," I had to answer. He's not. He's fine with bikes.

It's the imaginary stuff he's scared of. Or the really silly stuff, like birds flying around.

But the conversation got me to thinking. Why haven't I ridden Panama off the property yet? My plan all along was to ride him in the field, and slowly extend his comfort zone outward until we hit the trail (which is probably 200 yards away across said field).

It's not because he's not ready. He actually doesn't spook much anymore, and when he does it's no longer as violent. Or maybe I'm just a better rider now, and better able to sit it.

Anyway, I decided I'd done enough pussy-footing around, so today I went out to the barn with the intention of riding Panama in the field. I wore my boots, since I'm not comfortable riding him out there bareback, and I don't like to use my tennis shoes with stirrups. I didn't want to give myself any excuses not to follow through with my plan.

We rode in the field for only about 15 or 20 minutes, but I thought that was pretty good for our first time. And guess what? Panama was GOOD. We walked everything first, then trotted a bit. We went up and down a slight grade in the field, riding parallel to the fence line about 30 yards from the barn. We did circles one way, and then the other way. With a little work, he listened to leg yields, and my requests to collect or slow down (three things he typically has some trouble with on the trail).

Panama only spooked twice, and they were little spooks. The first time, I have no clue what he spooked at, but he jumped sideways. I sat it fine, and actually I noticed that I could feel it coming — something that I used to think happened too quickly that I would ever feel it.

The second time, he spooked forward. Again, I felt it coming: I could feel his butt lift as he gathered himself underneath him for one powerful spring forward. It was like riding a rollercoaster, but again, I sat it. (He didn't canter out of that giant spring forward — evidently he knows his momma as well as his momma knows him.)

Honestly, I think it's part of two things. One, I've noticed that Panama has gotten less jumpy as he's gotten older. He seems much more sure of himself, and I'm certain it's because he's achieving some maturity he'd lacked last summer. But also, I think my riding skills are improving: I'm more confident, too, and I feel more secure in the saddle than I used to. Plus, I've been riding bareback a lot lately, and I think that is really paying off.

Anyway, I was really thrilled with how well Panama did in the field today. In fact, I think he's already doing well enough that I feel I can push him a little further out on our next ride. I'm so excited — it would be great to be able to ride the trails, whether or not I've got someone to ride with!

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Deworming and new boarders

Somebody's been into the frosting again!

Horse deworming

Mom, this frosting tastes like ass.

I dewormed my horse tonight. Somehow Panama always manages to get it all over his mouth on the side I put it in. I think he might be pushing back with his tongue and trying to spit it out. It's supposed to be sticky so that they can't spit it out, but apparently Panama is able to anyway.

He's able to do a lot of things horses aren't supposed to do. He can stand on two legs, albeit briefly — and no, I don't mean rearing. I mean he can kick a fly off his belly with one of his hind feet when I'm picking out a front foot, or stamp a fly off a front foot when I'm picking out a back foot. He's figured out to use the foot on the diagonal, and everything.

He did learn the other day that he can't pick up both front feet. I was picking out his right front foot, when suddenly he started to go down to his knees. I staggered backward and watched in surprise as he picked himself back up. He'd tried to stamp his left front foot while I was picking out the right.

But anyway, I'm getting sidetracked. After deworming Panama, I dewormed the alpha and the mare, too. I'd had the barn owner get me enough dewormer for both of them a week or two ago, because I realized that if I don't do this, he certainly won't. (He didn't deworm either of them from November, when the boarder who used to do it for him left, to May, when the vet came and did it for him.)

Out of the three of them, Panama was decidedly the worst. The other two didn't get it on their faces at all. The mare — who is older and probably has been dewormed a gazillion times — practically opened her mouth and said ahhhhh. The alpha tried to back away from me, and then tried to shake me off, and when neither worked he gave up and let me do the deed. Even he was better than my horse.

Maybe Panama will get better about it with age.

Anyway, I also met the new boarders this evening. Their horses — a gelding and a mare, retired polo ponies — arrived a week ago, but I hadn't seen the owners until tonight. They are very nice and it sounds like they might become trail riding buddies for me. Besides, they have a nice big stock trailer — with no partition down the middle! — that they are willing to let me use to practice loading Panama. I'm excited — it seems like the kind of thing he'd be okay with getting on!

I have to say, having nice boarders there — especially boarders I can ride with — makes staying here a little longer seem a lot more palatable!

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A good reminder about dogs, cars, and summertime heat

Sorry for the lack of posting action going on lately. I don't have a whole lot of news, but I'll share what I do have later this evening.

In the meantime, here is an excellent reminder about how lethal it can be to leave your dog in a hot car. Complete with unforgettable descriptions of how the heat turns their organs to mush.

Here's a rundown of the important facts:

* Even 75 degrees can be too hot
* Cracking the windows doesn't help as much as you think it does
* Even if you get back "in time," the heat can permanently damage their organs
* Saving a dog that's been left in a hot car too long can cost you thousands in vet bills

If you know anyone who has a habit of leaving their dogs in the car, please forward the article to them.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Horsey headlines for July 10, 2009: Local edition

I only have one headline this week, and it's actually a couple of days late (as I've usually been posting these on Wednesday), but it's a local story that caught my attention and I really need to share it.

Apparently 22 horses were confiscated from a Colorado ranch this week for animal neglect. Several were pregnant or injured. My mom saw the story on the news, and from what she told me it sounds like most were starving.

But look at the pictures in the article. I've heard people talk before about horses' feet looking like elf shoes if they are left untrimmed for a long period of time, but I have NEVER seen anything as horrible as what is pictured here. EVER.

At what point do you say, "Gee, my horses' feet look too long"? Who can let it go this long without getting a clue that something is wrong?

Who does things like this?!

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More on the horse property

This evening Michael and I drove around the neighborhood where the horse property is located. We drove around and looked at some of the houses nearby, checked out local bike paths and where the light rail stop (to be finished in 2013) will be, and drove by the nice new shopping/city center that is in the neighborhood. We also drove to a park that is about a mile down the road — it has ball fields, a paved walking path, and a public outdoor horse arena.

All of these things were pretty encouraging. Some of the houses are hit or miss, but there aren't many sketchy homes in the neighborhood. Mostly they look pretty nice and well-kept, and there is a feeling of privacy (because of the large lots and how the houses are situated) that we like quite a bit. The bike routes and the park are a good thing because it makes Michael feel better about the move — he's big on cycling and on having a good place to walk the dogs. And the nearby city center, which includes a huge Whole Foods, is a big bonus as well.

We also talked a lot this evening about the house, and it's clear that although Michael has his reservations (mostly about moving to suburbia, even if it's an older neighborhood, and alsso increasing his drive to work), he's nearly as excited about the house as I am. We talked a long time about how we would decorate, upgrades we would like to do (both the cheap kind and the kind we couldn't afford for a while), and where we would shop.

I'm getting really quite excited. Michael still wants to drive up there early sometime next week, and then drive in to work to test the commute, but I think in the meantime we're also going to start talking to lenders to see what financing options are available to us. (We're not sure how the current economy, or the fact that we already own a house that we plan to rent out, will affect our chances of getting financing.)

I'm also going to take my mom over to see the house this weekend. Yes, even at 29 I still like to get Mom's opinion!

Wish us luck — on all counts, but especially on the last one. Mom can be a hard sell at times!

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Making up my mind

I've been thinking a lot lately about the horse property we looked at Monday evening. Just last night I was having second thoughts about moving — I love our little house (the one we live in currently), and it makes me sad to think about moving.

But then I went over to the barn today, and I was instantly reminded of why I want to take care of my horse on my own property. The mulch piles have still not been spread out — they are exactly as I left them a week ago. All I can think is, I am paying this guy way too much for him to procrastinate on stuff like this.

Woes of horse boarding

In fact, with my incentive to own horse property renewed, even having to rent out our current home doesn't sound so bad anymore. Nor does keeping Panama by himself at first. Whatever it takes to get Panama in my backyard is fine with me!!

Of course, I also have to plan for the worst case scenario, so in the meantime I'm starting to look for a boarding barn to move Panama to if we don't get the property.

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Stop and go

I got out to the barn today for the first time since I spent the evening there on the Fourth of July, just to keep tabs on the horses. (They did fine, by the way — a little jumpy, but they had plenty of hay to keep them occupied.)

I have a lot of work to do today, so I wasn't sure how much time I would spend out there — but after grooming him I decided to go ahead and squeeze in a quick bareback ride. It was my first ride in probably about a week.

Panama has a bad habit of starting to walk forward when I'm mounting or as I'm getting settled. I'd wondered if it was to compensate for my weight as I mounted, but he does it even when I use the fence to mount. I think he needs to learn to wait for my command to walk. He's also not very good at stopping quickly on whoa, or staying stopped until I say to go, and I'm thinking these things are all somewhat related.

So today we worked quite a bit on whoa and stand. With some repetition, I found that I could relax and he would stand still almost indefinitely. Whoa was harder, but I think we're making progress.

One thing I've been trying was something I'd read in Pony Boy's Horse, Follow Closely, but forgot to mention. When talking about anticipation, he says to raise your knees slightly when asking your horse to stop. That seemed odd to me, but when I was riding bareback a couple of weeks ago I tried it — and immediately realized why he said to do that. Raising your knees slightly naturally makes you sit back and deepen your seat, something I've found difficult to do otherwise. And sure enough, Panama is much more sensitive to the command to stop when I raise my knees a little.

Of course, balancing bareback while raising your knees is somewhat challenging, so by the time we had practiced this a bunch, my thighs were quivering with the exertion. Then I decided to wear them out a little more, and we practiced doing turns on the forehand with less reins, as we were doing last time I rode him. He's much better at swinging his rear end to the right than to the left, and I think it took about ten or fifteen minutes to get him to do the latter. By then my legs were so tired that I just had him do it a few more times, and then dismounted and called it a day.

Even if I didn't have a lot of time to ride today, it definitely felt good to get a short ride in. I'm really enjoying riding bareback, and I'm starting to feel a little more confident at it — I might actually try trotting bareback sometime soon!

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Monday, July 6, 2009

Horse property PICTURES!!!

We saw this horse property tonight, and I am in love!

It is nothing super special. The house is average, and while it is in pretty good shape, it also needs updates in the kitchen and bathroom. But the property itself is lovely. I am in love!

For starters, the house is a ranch built in 1941. It's been advertised as a three-bedroom, but really it's a two-bedroom with a lovely enclosed-porch-turned-office on the back of the house. The layout of the property, a long narrow lot with the house spanning it at the front, and the landscaping, which is a little overgrown, make the property feel extremely private.

The first house in our horse property search

The house also has an attached two-car garage, which seems like such a luxury to me now, after having NO garage for so long.

The first house in our horse property search

The house has a nice layout, with the living room, dining room, kitchen, and garage all across the front, and the bedrooms and office across the back.

The living room is pretty good sized for an old house, and has a fireplace with a pretty paneled mantle:

The first house in our horse property search

The dining room is also big enough to hold my lovely antique 6-seater dining table, buffet, and chairs (all matching). We don't have room for it here, so the table has been banished to the basement for the past two years. There is also a cute little linen closet in the dining room that I just LOVE. It has built-in drawers and everything. Unfortunately, I couldn't get a good picture of this room, so I'll have to leave it to your imagination.

The kitchen needs a new countertop pretty badly. The cupboards are old but would look fine if the countertop wasn't so ugly and dark.

The bathroom has a scary tub. Eventually we'd have to replace that, and in the meantime, no more baths! I'd miss my claw foot tub — if I stopped playing with my horse for long enough to notice, that is.

The first house in our horse property search

Now for the cool bits. First of all, the third "bedroom" that would be my office. You enter it through a single French door in the second bedroom...

The first house in our horse property search

...Or through a paneled door in the kitchen that is cut in half so that you can shut the bottom half and leave the top half open. The room is several steps lower than the rest of the house, and there's a little closet behind the stairs.

The first house in our horse property search

It's a big room, but the best part is that the east wall is almost completely glass: double French doors and two picture windows. They look onto the patio, the yard, and the little horse pasture beyond that.

The first house in our horse property search

The first house in our horse property search

The back yard is big and shady, with trees and overgrown landscaping that make it feel very private. Just beyond that is the pasture.

The first house in our horse property search

The horse pasture is pretty decent sized, and feels fairly private, since the house and the layout of the property block the sound of the road. The barn has two good-sized stalls (with two doors apiece — someone apparently took out a few walls to make bigger stalls!), another small "stall" that would really only be good for some sort of storage, and a large enclosed area for hay and tack storage. The hay and tack storage is the big part on the left end of the barn.

The first house in our horse property search

The house that overlooks the pasture doesn't seem like it would be intrusive, as there is a privacy fence there and only one second-story window really overlooks the pasture.

The first house in our horse property search

There is also a well on the property that doesn't seem to be working right now, but we might be able to get that fixed further on down the road! The water pump in the barn would also need to be fixed, but in the meantime I could keep the horse's water at the fence closest to the house, and run a hose from the house. The barn has ceiling fixtures and is all wired up, though that appears to need some attention as well.

The back fence is really too low to be horse fencing, but since the property is narrow that should be an easy fix. Other than that, there is mainly just a few cleaning and maintenance things that need to be done.

Despite the things that need to be fixed, I think the house has a lot of charm — such as that paneled mantle, lovely old glass doorknobs and brass hardware on all the doors, and that gorgeous office/den/sunroom/third bedroom. And the horse property of course is to die for: The layout and the landscaping create a feeling of privacy from your neighbors, as well as a clear distinction between "horse space" and "our space" — boundaries that will blur a bit, I'm sure, as I plan on letting them graze on the lawn from time to time, but even so it's a nice distinction to be able to make.

So Michael and I now have a lot to discuss. He's concerned about his drive to work being longer (35 to 40 minutes instead of 15 to 20), and we both want to check into the neighborhood a bit more. Another concern both of us share is what to do with our current home — it's not really a good time to try to sell a house, and I'm not a big fan of the thought of being landlords, though I think I could deal with it for the chance to stop boarding.

We also have to discuss whether we'll board Michael's mother's horses, or someone else's. I don't want to try to keep Panama all by himself — he's young and social and I don't think he'd like that very much. But I'm also not ready to get another horse. We've discussed the possibility of Michael's parents renting our house and boarding their horses with us, but we're not sure how reliable they'd be on paying their rent, so that might not be the best option. Also, boarding someone else's horses could provide us with a bit of additional income, and our current neighborhood would make this a great rental house for a couple of college students.

What are your thoughts — on the property, on boarding other people's horses, on renting or selling our current home? I'd love to hear what you think about the situation!

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Sunday, July 5, 2009

Review of Horse, Follow Closely by Gawani Pony Boy

iconiconI recently promised a review on my newest horse book, Horse, Follow Closely by Gawani Pony Boy, and here it is.

In my first post about this book, the informal review, I talked about some of my revelations about my relationship with Panama making up for my lack of riding skills. This was a big moment for me, when I realized that I was getting stuff done with Panama because he understands and trusts me.

The book is a great, easily readable combination of generally written advice, personal anecdotes, relationship-building exercises, and even a few native legends. There are some great ideas in the bbook, and I will most likely read it again — once my mother-in-law is done with it, that is!

The book is great, but I was especially pleased with the DVD that came with it. (Not sure if the DVD comes with all editions of the book, so be sure you check before ordering it online!) The DVD has lots of stuff that isn't in the book: additional training exercises, including basic training from the ground up, trailer loading, etc., and clips from talks Pony Boy has given.

One thing I found especially interesting about both the book and the DVD was his talk about her dynamics. Pony Boy says in both the book and the DVD that in order to have an effective relationship with your horse, you must be the alpha over him or her. I was incredibly pleased about this, because this is something I've been saying for a while. It was very validating to hear it from a world-famous natural horse trainer.

On the DVD, he expanded this somewhat to explain that you being the alpha, and your horse being the beta, is why your horse occasionally jockeys for control. He's challenging your alpha status, which is a perfectly normal thing for a beta to do. There's a funny clip where Pony Boy talks about the omega, which is the bottom of the totem pole, the one that gets picked on and acts as a release valve for the stress the alpha puts on the herd. He says that's why so many women's husbands complain about their wife's horse not listening to them: The husband takes on the role of the omega, an outlet for the horse's stress at being beta. It was a funny segment, and if you can get your hands on this DVD, I highly recommend watching it!

More seriously, though, I think Panama (who is most definitely the omega in nearly every herd he's been a part of) is not really beta with me. Occasionally he steps up and challenges me, but not very often. I think he's so used to being picked on, that he retains his passive submission even when it's just the two of us. He's omega to my alpha. It's kind of funny, but it explains why he is so sweet and obedient most of the time!

As I've mentioned before, I'm not 100 percent on natural horsemanship, but I think there are some really good things to take away from it — the same with any training method. This book and the DVD that came with it both reinforced certain ideas about how I related to my horse, and gave me some new ideas for things to try. To me, it is hugely valuable as a training book because it explained what it is I'm doing right in some cases, and gave me a nudge in the right direction in other cases. And that's exactly what I think a good training book should: Fine-tune your overall philosophy of working with horses.

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Back to the horse property search

Since I've been feeling rather disgruntled about boarding recently, I started searching for horse property in earnest once again. Yesterday I found a listing for an interesting property online, and we drove by to scope it out.

It's a little over 2/3 of an acre, a long narrow property with the house in the front and a four-stall barn and a tractor barn (read: plenty of hay storage) at the back of the property, well away from the street. On Google's satellite map, it looks as though the corral is fenced off separately from the barn.

The house would be an upgrade for us too, as it has more bedrooms, more square footage, and a garage. It was built nearly 70 years ago, and the listing lists it as a "fix up," which probably means it hasn't really been updated. That's fine with us, though, as the 1920 bungalow we live in now has only the necessary updates — nothing fancy. That's the way we like it.

Here's a screen capture of Google's satellite map of the property. I drew the boxes around the properties in Photoshop. The property we're looking at is outlined in red, and the neighbors (all three of them) are outlined in yellow. There is also apparently some acreage that backs up to them.

Horse property in Colorado

The advantages that I can see so far:

1) It's in town.
2) The house is an upgrade for us.
3) It's a pretty big lot for in-town horse property.
4) A planned new light rail route will run pretty close to it. Translation: easy access to public transit.
5) It's laid out well and already has a barn, hay storage, and adequate fencing (so we don't have to update any of that).
6) We can afford it! In fact, it's a ridiculously good price for in-town horse property — not much more than we paid for the non-horse property we're living at now. We'd save a ton of money on board that wouldn't be spent on a higher mortgage.

The disadvantages seem to be:

1) Michael would have to drive farther to and from work.
2) One of our neighbors would overlook the pasture, so there might not be a whole lot of privacy back there. We'll have to tour the property before we know for sure whether the fencing and the landscaping offers any privacy back there.
3) We don't know what the neighborhood is like, so if it's not very good this could be a significant disadvantage.

I'm really quite excited and hopeful about this property, but Michael (who would rather live in a trendy urban neighborhood than on horse property) is skeptical. Still, he's willing to go check it out, so we have an appointment to see the property this coming week. Wish us luck!

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Saturday, July 4, 2009

A familiar feeling of frustration

I'm feeling exceedingly frustrated with my current boarding situation. It's a familiar feeling — I remember feeling this way every time my relationship with a past barn was coming to an end (but before I'd made the decision to move). I'm afraid this means that it's time to move Panama, again.

I mentioned recently that I'd noticed the property owner was drinking more and feeding the horses later. Since I talked to him about it, I haven't seen him drinking and he seems to be feeding the horses their breakfast a little earlier — at least when I happen to be there. (I'm planning on staking out the place to see if he's feeding them at the same time when I'm not there.) But I'm also noticing some other things going downhill.

For example, he and his boys still haven't finished spreading out the mulch — at least not as of late last night, and I rather doubt they did it today either (though I'd love to be proven wrong when I go over there this evening). I can't think of any blatant safety hazards that large piles of mulch pose to horses, but I can't shake the feeling that it's not really a very good idea. I almost finished it myself the other day, until Michael pointed out that I'm paying the guy board every month (and it's not cheap, either) to do this kind of stuff.

Another complaint: For the last month or so, the property owner has been using a harrow hooked up to the back of his tractor to spread the manure, instead of mucking it. There are a couple of problems with this approach to manure management, I think:

1) There's not really enough room for it (only about 2/3 of an acre in pasture and three, soon to be five, horses), and

2) It's not really breaking up the manure, just spreading big chunks of it around.

Aside from the manure concerns, there are two other problems:

3) It's turning up rocks, nails, and glass that have been buried in the pasture for probably 30 years, and

4) Because he's doing it so often (several times a week), it's ripping up the top layer of soil and making everything really dusty.

I asked him to stop harrowing the pasture, and he was extremely reluctant to go back to mucking. I told him I'd start helping with mucking again (my contract requests that I help out a little, though he is required to do the majority of it), but we'll see. If the last few days are any indication, he may have stopped harrowing despite his reluctance, but I'm concerned he won't start up mucking again either, perhaps in the hopes that I'll do all of it.

There are a few other little things like this that seem to indicate a slippage in the level of care he is providing. To top it off, on Wednesday he got annoyed with me for making a suggestion, after I'd just spent my entire morning and part of my afternoon cleaning the barn and spreading mulch. And it wasn't exactly something I ought to be having to ask, either: He'd mentioned he thought the horses would be okay in the other pasture without water for a while, and since it was at least 85 degrees, I said I thought they needed water. (I was also remembering when he left a horse in that pasture overnight once without water, forgetting there wasn't any in that pasture.) He didn't do anything about it, so I started asking whether he had a bucket he could put over there for water. Then he got annoyed and told me that I didn't need to tell him stuff like that, because he'd never let the horses go without water. Ummm, hello?

Up until now I've liked the fact that he was willing to take suggestions, but I don't want a place where I'm always having to micromanage to make sure my horse is getting the proper care. I've been browsing Craiglist for other places to board in town, but there doesn't seem to be a lot available right now. Plus, I'm getting tired of moving.

This train of thought naturally resulted in me spending a long time on Craigslist and Realtor.com today, searching for horse property. We found one place so far that seems like a good possibility. More on that later!

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Happy Fourth of July... I think?

Fugly Horse of the Day honored Independence Day with a post that pretty much says exactly what I think about this holiday: Happy Let's-Scare-the-Pets-to-Death Day!

Don't get me wrong, I totally appreciate what Independence Day stands for. I'm proud to be an American*, and all that. But hey, I can't help it, I think getting sh!t-faced and trying to burn down the neighborhood is a really poor way to celebrate the freedom our Founding Fathers achieved for us.

Fugly's post has some tips on how to keep your horses safe on the 4th, including putting them in a barn if possible and at the very least making sure they're not surrounded with potentially dangerous fencing. Putting Panama and the other two horses in the barn isn't entirely an option, as I think they'll handle it better if they don't feel trapped. Besides, if someone lights the kindling in the pasture on fire I'd hate for the horses to be trapped in an old wooden barn, that also happens to be full of wood chips. Just the thought makes my heart skip a beat.

I'm actually planning on spending the evening in the pasture. I went there late yesterday evening to check on them, as there were quite a few fireworks going off in our neighborhood, and I suspected it was the same near the barn. Sure enough, very soon after walking into the pasture, I had three horses surrounding me with pleading eyes. At first glance they seemed okay, but boy were they clingy! And then I realized that they were all on edge, even if they weren't showing it — Panama shied away from my hand, which he never does, and when the barn owner brought out some extra hay to help soothe their nerves, the alpha was even more food aggressive than usual.

So that's what I'll be doing this evening: babysitting my horse. In the meantime, my husband will be at home babysitting our white shepherd, Grace, who spends most Independence Day celebrations (not to mention most thunderstorms) in the bathtub. (One of our cats is deaf and hasn't got a clue that things like fireworks and thunder even exist, and the other cat and the other dog don't care.) Sounds like a festive holiday, doesn't it? And people wonder why it's not our favorite...

What are your plans for the evening? Do you worry about your pets' reactions to the fireworks, and if so, what precautions do you take to make sure they make it through the night in one piece?

*Most days.

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Butterscotch horse treats, a saddle cover, and a giveaway

Again today (Friday), I'd planned on working with Panama but ended up not being able to. For one thing, I realized after arriving at the barn that I'd forgotten to get fly spray on my way, and since the flies were especially active I decided to leave to go get some and bring it back. But it turned out to be just as well, because shortly after I left the second time it got dark and started to pour.

While I was at the feed store buying fly spray, I also picked up a bag of treats, as I've been running low. I buy bite-size treats, because I can feed more of them and because they're only about six bucks for a good-sized bag at my feed store. (Twice that at the tack store — unbelieveable markup!) They were out of the apple treats I used to get, and I decided to try something different than the peppermint I got last time around, so this time I got butterscotch.

Have you ever given your horse something new and good to eat, and watched their reaction? When I fed Panama a butterscotch treat, he started chewing it like normal, and it was a moment before he really tasted it. His eyes got big and he immediately turned his head right back toward me. He obviously likes these treats very much, and I don't blame him — they smell so good I've actually considered trying one myself!

The only other news for today is that I finally found a saddle cover I liked. I'd bought a plain black one for really cheap on eBay recently, but it turned out to be too small for my saddle. The new one is nicer, a soft fleece and no exposed elastic cord, and best of all it fits! Doesn't it look nice?

Plaid fleece English saddle cover

I didn't bother returning the other saddle cover because it was too cheap to make the refund worthwhile. If any of my readers can use it, though, I'd be happy to send it your way. It's black and made of a lightweight cotton canvas (in other words, not very soft, but functional). I think the saddle would have to be pretty small for this to fit, as mine is supposedly a 16 or 16.5 inch English saddle and it does not fit. Perhaps a child's saddle, or one that doesn't have the big thick flaps mine does?

Anyway, I have a feeling not many people actually have saddles this small, unless of course you have kids who ride English, so I'm not going to do my usual contest. The first person who tells me they have a small saddle they think it might fit, gets it.

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Friday, July 3, 2009

Update on recent trailer work

In my last post on trailer loading practice, I talked about how I was wondering whether I should change tactics on trying to teach Panama to load. The comments I received made me decide to experiment with other methods a little. Then Kate wrote a fantastic post about keeping the feet moving, among other things, which gave me some other ideas.

This will be a long post — sorry about that.

I worked with Panama for a long time Tuesday afternoon. Inspired by Kate's comments, I started out by seeing how Panama gave to halter pressure. The answer: pretty good, though not perfect. There's a slight hesitation before he moves his feet, but he knows what halter pressure means and responds to it.

Unless there's a trailer in his way.

I wanted to work for a bit without the grain as incentive (read: blatant bribery), so I tried out some different ways to approach the trailer — me standing to his right, me standing to his left, me standing inside the trailer, trying to get him to follow me into the same stall, etc.

Normally, with this trailer I wouldn't try to get him to walk into the same stall as me. I know the dangers, particularly when this trailer is such a small one. It's a pity, because Panama is much more willing to follow me onto a trailer when there's enough room for both of us inside the stall. I've decided that's why he loaded so easily this time. However, at this point on Tuesday I was pretty sure I wasn't in danger of him actually getting all the way in and squishing me. I was hoping that he would put a foot in if I was already in there, but unfortunately it didn't work out that way. He did walk all the way up to it and bump his legs up against the edge of the trailer, but no further.

Until the grain came out, of course. He quite happily put two feet in the trailer for that. Well, not entirely happily — he's worried about it, so it takes quite a few tries to get to his grain. It's like playing the hokey pokey:

Put your left foot in,
Put your right foot in,
Put both feet out and shake your head about...

It takes a few times of that before he makes it as far as the grain.

After he had his grain, we worked on it some more, but he still wouldn't put a foot in without the incentive (read: bribe). I did discover that it worked best if I stood on his left side, in front of the door, and I swung the end of the lead rope lightly at his belly while clucking to him. He knew what I wanted, but didn't want to do it, so he danced back and forth and every once in a while stepped up until he bumped the edge of the trailer with his knees.

Now here's where my horse demonstrates his infuriating intelligence. I started out by rewarding the smallest advancement by letting him step back, praising him, and walking him around the trailer or around the pasture a little. I would generally watch for where he froze up, apply halter pressure and/or a go command, and then reward him as soon as he went a step beyond that point. So the little bugger caught on, and started freezing up farther back so that his step forward, when he gave it to me, was still within his comfort zone. Arrrrghhhh. I had to start drawing a line in the dirt after that to mark where his last step was.

Anyway, I ended up having to be satisfied with him bumping the trailer with his knees sans-grain, as well as a couple of other lessons that we seemed to reinforce during that period (Don't challenge Mommy being the boss because she makes you run laps, and Walk nicely on the lead line even when you're nervous).

Yesterday I had to be satisfied with even less, because I only got about 15 minutes to work with him at the trailer before breakfast was served and I got distracted by other work.

Today I never made it to the trailer because it started raining on us, but I did have a chance to test a suggestion that my new hero, Kate, made: that some horses hesitate about loading because they aren't comfortable (or are scared of) backing out. She mentioned practicing backing through obstacles, and one she mentioned was a practice bridge. Hey, I've got one of those at my disposal, and it's a pretty narrow one too — perfect! So today I led him up it, stopped him at the top, and backed him down again.

No big deal. He walked carefully down the ramp, as I would expect, but seemed completely comfortable, if a little confused about why Mommy was making him do this. I did this several times, each time with the same unconcerned response.

Okay, so backing is apparently not the issue. I still need to practice it a bit more to be sure, and I would have had it not started raining at this point. But it certainly seems that it is his previous bad experiences with the trailer that make him reluctant to load.

But I have a couple other new ideas now, thanks (again) to Kate. She had a couple of suggestions for using a second person to keep his feet moving, and you know what, they even seem like something my non-horsey husband can manage. I'm still going to practice backing some more first (why the heck not), but hopefully we'll get back to the trailer practice this weekend!

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Horsey Headlines for July 3, 2009

These were supposed to be posted on Wednesday, but I spent the day at the barn, wore myself out, fell asleep early, and just in general forgot to post them.

The first is complements of a friend of Michael's (thanks Sam!). USA Today chose a gorgeous photograph of horses for the winner of their Picture America contest. It's a beautiful photo, of course, but it doesn't surprise me in the least that the judges thought a photograph of horses running wild in front of beautiful scenery was the most representative of America.

Which makes me wonder why, if wild horses are considered such a symbol of America, we are considering euthanizing them as opposed to using other, more humane methods of controlling their population.

Here's another thing I can't help but wonder about. In Longmont, Colorado, a 12-year-old boy was killed bull riding after he fell off and was trampled. Now, the woman can talk about letting her kids do what they enjoy until she's blue in the face, but how much do you think a 12-year-old enjoyed dying like that? Sheesh.

This is just a fun humorous article about horses, but I love the opening line. It also has a list of "explanations" about what various terms mean in horse classified ads. Definitely worth a peek — most anyone who has ever spent time browsing horse ads will be able to appreciate the humor.

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Thursday, July 2, 2009

A hard day's work

Sorry for neglecting my blog the last couple of days. I've been pretty busy lately, so I have a lot of catching up to do. Sorry in advance for all the posts coming your way this weekend!

Yesteday especially was a big day at the barn. I got out there around 8:30 in the morning, and stayed until about 3:00.

When I got out there, the horses hadn't had breakfast yet, so I groomed Panama and took him over to work with the trailer a little. The property owner gave them their breakfast about 9:30 (showing that he is indeed respecting my wishes to have them fed a little earlier in the mornings), so we didn't get much time to work on it — but I'll talk about trailer stuff in another post.

While the horses ate their hay, I mucked a little bit (more on that in another post too). The property owner had gotten some free mulch from a company that had taken down a couple of trees in the neighborhood (not ones that are toxic to horses — I checked!), and we were planning on putting some in the barn as well as spreading it out in the front pasture, so I got started cleaning out the barn in preparation for it.

Free horse bedding!

I don't think I've taken very many pictures of it, but the barn was actually kind of nasty — the horses poop in there but not excessively, so the barn owner never mucks it, and as a result there was a year or two's worth of broken-down manure dust in there. There are four stalls (two large ones, two medium sized), and each one had at least six inches of manure dust. I almost completely filled the dumpster with that stuff.

Then I started moving the mulch into the barn. Of course, by this time it was getting quite hot, and I had a lot of mulch to move! But the property owner got his three college-age boys to help me, and we got it all done in about an hour.

Wood chips horse bedding

Horse stalls with wood chip bedding

It's amazing how tired, and yet how great, I felt after working so hard all day. It was really satisfying to see the results of all our hard work! My only frustration is that when I was there today, the barn owner hadn't finished spreading the rest of the mulch in the pasture — it's still sitting there in piles, just as I left it yesterday afternoon. I feel like it's a little unsafe, not to mention undesireable to have the horses picking through them to eat dead cottonwood leaves. I also feel like I put in six hours at the barn yesterday, and it's incredibly irritating that they can't put in an hour or two more to finish it. I'm not paying my board every month (which is kind of expensive, I might add) to have the place neglected.

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