Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Great Barn Search - Day 1

Today I visited three barns, and scheduled a time to tour a fourth. All are very different, and the appeal of each is different too (some more appealing than others). I'd forgotten how discouraging barn hunting is, though — there are a lot of bad barns, not very many good ones, and very few affordable good ones.

Ultimately, I think I'm very picky compared to some people. I don't want to see junk in the pasture, poor-quality hay, or uncared-for horses. I prefer my horse to have a corral, pasture, or turnout so that he gets enough exercise, shelter or a stall because I know he likes that, and companionship so that he doesn't get lonely.

Apparently these things are a lot to ask for.

Here's a basic rundown of Day 1 of the Great Barn Search:

Barn 1 was a self-care barn about a 20-minute drive from my house (a bit far, by my standards). It's $175 a month, a steal in Denver where property values are quite high.

Pros:

* Affordable
* Large stall and run
* For an extra $1 a day, they'll feed, so I'll only have to clean
* Large round pen and a makeshift arena

Cons:

* Self-clean stalls
* I'd have to buy my own hay
* No pasture
* Makeshift arena is very makeshift
* Trail access requires walking a half mile along a rather busy road
* All in all, kind of a sketchy setup, though I see nothing unsafe about it

Barn 2 is a very different sort of place: a full-care barn situated in a large open space park with tons of direct trail access. It's more expensive: $480 for a box stall in the indoor barn, but I may be able to get into a corral with shelter for $325, if the one person on the waiting list is no longer interested. I'll find out tomorrow.

Pros:

* Full care
* Awesome trail access with no roads to cross
* Several outdoor arenas and a fabulous indoor with well-maintained footing
* Corral is close to what I've got now, only less expensive
* Stalls are matted, bedded with shavings, and cleaned twice a day
* The $480 for the stalls includes turnout ($455 without turnout, but I wouldn't do that)
* Indoor tie stalls and wash rack in between the barn and indoor arena, all connected so that you never have to go outside

Cons:

* A stall is more than I wanted to spend
* The corral may not be ideal, as Panama would be with a gelding that is a bit aggressive toward other geldings
* The barn is a bit farther away than I'm accustomed to
* It's a bigger barn, and although everyone seems nice, sharing facilities will take some getting used to

Barn 3 is another self-care barn, just up the street from the barn I left last summer. I actually tried to get into that barn then, but an opening didn't come up at the time, and then I found the place I'm currently at so I stopped checking back.

Pros:

* Only $125 a month!
* Good trail access, after only a short walk down a sidewalk on a moderately busy road
* Nice green pasture
* Fenced outdoor arena

Cons:

* Self care
* I'd have to buy my own hay
* Although I like the boarders I met last summer, who are still there, there's a new boarder from whom I got a very bad feeling... and she's the one I'd likely be sharing a corral with

Right now I'm leaning toward Barn 2. If the corral is available, I'll probably try that — the gelding has had problems with other, more dominant geldings, so the owner thinks he may be more accepting of a young, submissive horse like Panama, who doesn't have a dominant bone in his body. She says he's not violent, just guards the food and water, which she has solved in the past by feeding and watering at both ends of the corral. Also if it doesn't work out I can always move into the barn as soon as there is another opening (assuming the current openings are gone by then).

Of course, I may change my mind after tomorrow, when I get the official tour of the self-care barn I visited a few weeks ago with my friend. Regardless, though, I plan on moving Panama before October 29th — the eviction deadline at the place I'm at now!

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Horse communication: Food for thought

I am fascinated by the ways in which horses demonstrate their intelligence. One of the ways I see this is how they do things to point out something to us. If you think about it, this means that they are able to see things from another's point of view, to be able to anticipate how we will perceive their attempts at communication. Really an amazing feat of animal intelligence, if you ask me.

I ran into a great example of this a couple of weeks ago, when a friend and I visited a self-care barn we're considering moving our horses to. As we standing there talking, I looked over at a horse standing at the fence of a nearby corral. The horse looked straight at me, and lifted her left front foot and set it down again — twice.

At first I thought she was pawing, but I looked at her again and realized her leg was stuck in the fence. It was a wire fence with four or five strands of wire, and she'd gotten her foot on the other side of the bottom two strands, and couldn't figure out how to get it back again. She wasn't struggling, just standing there looking at me.

We walked over to figure out if we could untangle the horse. My friend lifted the foot and worked it back through the fence while I helped hold the wires aside. The whole time, she kept commenting about how the horse wasn't helping at all — the foot was dead weight.

Looking back on it, I think she wasn't helping because she knew it had to be people who untangled her — and if she moved wrong, she'd make it harder for us, not easier. Just as I think when she looked at me hard and raised her leg twice, she was telling me — or showing me — that she was stuck.

Another example: My brother-in-law and his wife have two horses, a 20-something Arabian and a 10- or 12-year-old Tennessee walker. The younger horse is deaf. My mother-in-law has watched the older horse run right up to the deaf horse to get his attention when it's feeding time, and literally bring him back with him. And the other day, when the deaf horse was injured, the older horse came up to the end of the pasture close to the house and ran back and forth along the fence, whinnying until someone noticed. When my mother-in-law came out, he immediately turned and led her to where the other horse was tangled up in the fence.

One final story of how horses demonstrate they are able to see things from others' point of view. Panama had this little trick he used to do when I'd lead him in from the grazing pasture at our old barn: He'd pin his ears and nip at my clothes, but as soon as I turned around to look at him, he put his head and his ears up. He was clearly aware that when I was looking, he had better pretend like nothing was going on. And it was someone else who pointed out to me what he was doing, so it wasn't a reinforced or learned behavior — I had no clue he was even doing it.

I recently read a National Geographic article from last year that talked about animal intelligence. In one part they talk about dolphins, and how scientists have recently come to realize that the ability to copy their human handlers' movements when learning tricks is actually a pretty significant intellectual feat: It requires that the animal be able to picture itself in its own mind, to understand how it will look if they move a certain way.

It's not exactly the same, but I'd say being able to understand how another person or animal would perceive something is a similar feat. Anyone who has ever confronted a child with stolen candy in their mouth, and had the kid deny taking the candy, knows that seeing something from someone else's point of view is a fairly high level thought process.

What about you? What little things do your horses do that demonstrate their ability to see things from another's point of view?

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Barn trouble

I mentioned in Friday's post that I am seriously considering leaving the barn where I'm at. In less than a week, I'll have been there an entire year — the longest I've been at any one barn.

And actually, for the first five or six months, I was pretty happy with the place. I felt like the barn owner wasn't really a horse person, and therefore didn't seem to catch on to certain things, but the horses were always well fed, their water was clean, and the facility and location suited my needs better than any barn I'd boarded at before.

Unfortunately, the care seems to have gone downhill. Here is a list of my major complaints:

1) Late morning feedings

Back in June I had to talk to the barn owner about feeding the horses their breakfast a little earlier — the gradual sliding of their morning feeding seemed to be coinciding with the more often I saw him drinking. After I talked to him, it got a little better for a while, then started sliding again.

In July or August, he realized I was often coming to the barn early in the morning to feed Panama myself so that he'd be done eating by 10:30 or 11, when I usually rode. He claimed he usually tried to feed around 8:30 am (it was all I could do to keep from laughing at him when he said this), and for a while he was feeding around 9:00 every morning. But of course, that only lasted a few weeks.

Feeling like I have to babysit the barn owner's feeding schedule is excessively annoying to me. I considered telling up, straight up, that with him losing half the property there isn't much of a reason for me to stay if he's not going to keep up on the care, but what's the point? He might shape up for a little while, but how long will it last?

2) My stuff getting used

This one is excessively annoying too, mainly because I never had this problem at the bigger barns I boarded at. You might remember my post with the tantrum title (MINE), where I talked about discovering (not for the first time) that someone was using Panama's stuff. It's happened several more times — I noticed I was going through fly spray awfully fast, and then one day found my fly spray in the grooming tote that is used for the alpha and the barn owner's mare.

I talked to pretty much everyone I could think of — the neighbor girl's mom, the instructor who gives lessons on the mare — and none of them were using my stuff. It turned out to be the barn owner's daughter, who lives with her mom but sometimes gets a wild hair and decides to ride her horse.

Every time I found my stuff being used, I complained to the barn owner, and he claimed he'd told his daughter not to. After this last time, when I found my fly spray in the other box, I complained again. On Saturday when I showed up, she was doing a lesson, and I noticed she had her own fly spray. But on Sunday when I came, at a rather unusual time for me, I discovered that she was riding and had left my treat container standing open.

So that's why I'm going through treats quickly, too.

I didn't even say anything to her or her dad. I am just so sick of having to complain. I mean, seriously, why should I have to tell them on every little individual thing?

3) The foreclosure

I've posted already about the barn owner losing the neighboring property, which he uses for the horses, to foreclosure. He hasn't offered to drop the price any, and initially I was thinking I wouldn't ask, since I didn't want to do anything that would encourage him to board too many horses on half the land. But with the quality of care a constant challenge, why should I continue paying a premium price for something that doesn't offer me the same amenities?

Part of the appeal of the place, when I moved Panama here, was the fact that there were two pastures. The second pasture — the one on the property that was foreclosed on — provided a place to ride without the other horses around. I was also able to set up a makeshift wash rack — there was a good, solid post over there to use as a hitching post, and the hose hookup was inside the pasture, so with the addition of a rubber mat I was able to pull together a pretty decent place to groom or hose down a horse.

But soon we'll lose that, and I'm not optimistic about how it will affect us. After my fall on Friday, I hosed down Panama's leg where I've been tying him lately, by the tack room, and the barn owner complained. When I pointed out that pretty soon that would be the only place, he got annoyed with me.

I suspect that he is not really taking the foreclosure seriously. He claims he wasn't given an official eviction notice, that only his tenant was. I wonder if that's true since he's using the land, too. But in any case, the deadline is October 29th, yet he told me that he'll continue keeping the horses over there for a while longer. His reasoning: They won't be able to sell it right away. Absolutely no respect for the fact that the property doesn't belong to him anymore. Or that he could be putting people's horses in danger of being taken my animal control, if they are on the bank's property and the bank doesn't feel like playing nice.

Finally, after overhearing him on the phone talking about the foreclosure, I check the county's website and discovered that the foreclosure process was started on all three of his properties last October (he owns another house a few blocks away, in addition to his residence). Sure, with the other horse property gone, he has fewer monthly expenses — but he also has less income, since he no longer is getting rent (which he obviously was not using to pay the mortgage) and he doesn't have room for as many horses.

So my personal feeling is that it is only a matter of time before he loses his other properties, as well, including the horse property. And I'd rather not be there when he does, since I already know that he won't be forthcoming with that information.

4) A general feeling of unease

All of this has helped to contribute to my feelings of unease, but there are other things too. Over a year of boarding here I've come to realize how much the barn owner is NOT a horse person. He doesn't make much of an effort to learn or retain anything pertaining to what he ought to be viewing as a business. For example, he asked me earlier this year what brome hay was. Admittedly, I didn't know either, so I looked it up and then passed the information on to him. But then, several months later, he asked another boarder the same question. If you were in the business of buying hay every few months, don't you think you would want to learn — and remember — these things?

And of course, at least part of my unease is fueled by his drinking. For a while after I talked to him back in June, I noticed that he was sharper when I'd talk to him. But I think he's sliding again. He doesn't come around me carrying a drink in his hand anymore, but the signs are still there: several huge trash cans full of beer cans on trash day, for example, and I've even found beer in MY mini fridge that I bought to store Panama's colic shot in the tack room. And since I went the very next day, I also know that he drank six of those beers that night, after returning from taking his boys to a beer festival downtown (where I'm sure he had at least a few).

There are times when I talk to him and I'm pretty sure he's drunk. For example, just last Thursday when I was tacking up, he came out to talk to me. He's kind of a stumblebum, so there's not much of a difference when he's drunk — it's more of an impression, and I definitely got the impression this time. Also, I'd thrown some hay over the gate to save part of Panama's dinner for him, and when I came back from riding I found the hay thrown back over (even though he should have known what I was doing, as I've done it before with him around), and the gate left unchained.

So there you have it: why I'm looking for a new place for Panama. I've given this barn plenty of second (and third and fourth) chances, and the only reason I can see staying longer is because of the difficulty of finding a new barn. But ideally I'd like to be out by October 29th, so that I don't have to worry about the consequences of him violating the eviction deadline.

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Saturday of changes

I'm feeling a bit stiff today from my fall yesterday, but not bad, considering. This turned out to be my second mildest fall — right after the one where I fell off and landed on my feet.

Panama, unfortunately, fared worse when he collided with the gate. I'd found a small cut and a scrape on his left front fetlock yesterday, so today I stopped by the tack store to pick up some more Furall before heading out to the barn.

Unfortunately, it turns out they took Furall — which is an aeresol version of Furacin — off the market temporarily. That's really too bad, because it's excellent stuff. So I guess I have to get mine back from my mother-in-law...

When I got out to the barn, I was unsurprised to find that Panama's front left fetlock was slightly swollen. I also figured he might have another minor injury I'd missed, and sure enough, I found a little knot on his right knee. I hosed both legs with cold water and cleaned out the cut with betadine. He was walking a bit gingerly today — not lame, but like he was a bit sore — so I won't be riding again until he seems comfortable again.

But the hosing down triggered a frustrating conversation with the barn owner. I've been getting annoyed with him and the situation there more and more lately. As a result, I've started looking a little more seriously for a new place to board Panama. Two weeks ago I visited a self-care place with an acquaintance who is also considering moving there — we would share self-care duties — and I think Monday I will go back and get an official tour with the woman who runs the place. There is also another barn I'm considering that I'll probably tour on Monday... I'll post more of my thoughts on moving Panama later!

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Friday, September 25, 2009

"FIVE!"

Yelling that was my first reaction after falling off of Panama today, for my fifth time ever.

I had a lesson this morning, so I was disappointed to find that it had rained overnight, making the pasture quite muddy. Initially my trainer agreed with me that cantering wasn't a good idea, so we worked on my post and two-point. My trainer also seemed pretty pleased with the improvements in my post.

We rode in the front pasture, where it was slighlty less muddy, but there were a still a few parts where Panama slipped forward a smidge every time he put a foot down. The way he compensated for it made his trot a bit bouncier, which took some adjusting to. My trainer said I was handling it well, though.

Then she decided to have me canter along the part where the footing was the best. I knew the footing was good there, so I didn't complain. Our first attempt was a bit awkward — I didn't keep my two-point very well, and Panama picked up the wrong lead. He also slowed to a trot after only two strides, presumably because we were about to turn the corner and he knew he was on the wrong lead.

Or because of what happened on our next attempt.

He was still a bit jumpy, just like last night, and after we cantered he was trotting pretty energetically, so my trainer told me to wait for her to tell me to canter. We trotted down the stretch with the good footing, and he calmed down a bit when we didn't canter, so she told me to canter as soon as we turned the corner.

We cantered. It was fantastic. I was doing much better.

For about two strides — before he slipped.

Because I was in my two-point, and probably also because I'm just learning this cantering/two-point thing, when he started going down in the front I didn't have a prayer. I immediately started falling over his left shoulder. I immediately thought, "I hope I don't fall underfoot." Whether because my body was instinctively trying to avoid this, or for some other reason, I rolled away from him as I fell, so I had a quick glimpse of his shoulder and legs right in front of my face.

My next thought was to realize my left arm had gotten caught in the reins as I fell. As I hit the ground, my arm came free, but not before jerking on poor Panama's mouth, I'm sure.

As soon as I hit the ground, I was looking for my horse. I saw him run away from me like he was being chased, cantering full speed at the (closed) gate between the pastures, and then do a magnificent sliding stop that still didn't keep him from hitting the gate. The force bent the latch and the gate popped open. My trainer was already on her way to catch him, and I sat up and yelled, "FIVE!"

After which, of course, I had to explain what I meant.

Anyway, after standing around for a few minutes to give both of us a breather, I got back on (I insisted, not my trainer — she was ready to start taking off his tack) and walked and trotted a bit more before calling it a day.

Panama did get a small cut on his front left fetlock, presumably from hitting the gate, but otherwise looks none the worse for wear. Other than the mark where the reins yanked on my arm, I'm fine too. Mud makes for a soft landing — although in this case, it was also the cause of the landing. Oh, and mud also gets EVERYWHERE when you land in it — I even found mud in my bra afterward!

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Fall comes to the barn

It rained nearly all day Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week. Today the weather finally broke, and it was partly sunny and dry all day, if a little cool and breezy. It felt just like fall.

In the evening (what there is of it these days) I went out to the barn, and the feeling that fall had come was even stronger there. The horses are slightly fuzzy from the cooler weather — although as usually Panama is considerably less fuzzy than the others (and that's without any blanketing, as I don't blanket until it gets down into the teens). The pastures are a little damp from three days of rain, and since the barn owner harrowed them to help them dry faster, it smells of moist earth at the barn.

After nearly a week since my last visit, Panama was pretty glad to see me — he even left his hay to come greet me, and that almost never happens. When I tied him up and started brushing him, though, I quickly found that he was a bit jumpy — probably from the abrupt changes in weather, which always seems to affect him that way.

I did a fairly quickie grooming session and tacked Panama up, and we rode for what little daylight we had left. I started out alternating between posting and two-point — I'd been reading an article in an old issue of Horse Illustrated that talked about that as a good way to perfect your posting. Reading the article and looking at the pictures, I immediately realized what my problem is with posting — I'm too vertical in the upper body, and as a result I'm trying to post too high. Alternating between posting and two-point is supposed to help you get the position right, and I did find that it helped quite a bit — but so did finally recognizing what I was doing wrong.

After a little bit of this, I started to get hot — I had layered a bit too enthusiastically. I tried to park Panama next to the practice bridge, so that I could lay my coat on one of the hand rails, but he was nervous about something over by the trailers. Sure enough, when I listened I could hear something scurrying — or rustling. I have a feeling it was the tarp that one of the boarders has been keeping thrown over one of the trailer doors.

Anyway, I circled Panama around the bridge and into the open, since I didn't want to box us in, just in case he freaked out about the coat dropping. I've done this one before, and he was fine with it, so I just took the whole thing slow — but when I tossed the coat to the ground Panama leaped sideways.

(Interestingly, I immediately went into my two-point as he spooked sideways. Hmmm. Perhaps the lessons are paying off?)

As he usually does, once Panama had jumped sideways he stopped panicking and came back to me. I walked him back to the coat and let him think about sniffing it. It took a couple of approaches before he actually would, and then we worked on walking by it until he didn't shy to the side anymore.

Once he seemed to be growing comfortable with it on the ground, I dismounted and retrieved the coat. Panama was wary but sniffed it while I held it. I shook it; he was fine. I dropped it, and he jumped, but not away from me.

We worked on this for a little while, until he seemed okay with it. Then I put the coat back on, remounted, and rode him around a little more before stopping him at the other side of the pasture to take off the coat again.

He spooked again — smaller, but still a little sideways leap.

So I dismounted again, and we worked on it some more. We did this a few times — groundwork, remounting, dropping the coat — and although he was tolerant of the coat when it was on the ground, or I was holding it, he still was having a hard time with the dropping part.

Suddenly it occurred to me that none of my desensitizing work was on his side — it was all head-on, where he could really see it and feel comfortable with it. So when I held the jacket out to the side before dropping it, that was different.

This was my breakthrough. I stood at his head and gently swung the jacket beside his belly. He sidestepped. I swung the jacket two more times — short swings — and the third time he leaned away from it but didn't move his feet.

I praised him like crazy.

And he got it.

After that it was a piece of cake. I swung the jacket, he was fine. I even was able to reach out and drop the jacket next to him, to simulate where it would fall if I were mounted — he twitched the first couple of times, but every time he improved I praised him and petted his neck. He got to the point where he didn't jump or lean at all.

Unfortunately, by this point we didn't have much daylight left, so I didn't want to get back on and try taking the jacket off from the saddle — if he spooked again, I wouldn't have enough daylight to start over. I wanted to end on a good note, so I called it a day.

It's too bad to give up riding time like that, but I believe in taking advantage of every opportunity to make him into a better, more solid horse — and the jacket thing was definitely an opportunity.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Kicked by a horse

My bruise is finally starting to come in nice and clear. This is how it looked yesterday:

My bruise from getting kicked by a horse

It's about the same, or maybe a little greener, today.

Thanks to a combination of sore leg and bad weather, I haven't been back out to the barn since my lesson on Friday. Ironically it wasn't riding that aggravated my leg — it was carrying kids around. I babysat both Friday and Saturday nights, and both times the pain was quite bad afterward. Whenever I picked up a child, I could literally feel the stress the added weight put on my knee. It makes me glad I only weigh 120 pounds — it's got to be helping speed my recovery a little, not to be carrying any extra weight around!

Anyway, after taking it easy for a couple of days, my leg is feeling much better — but now it's the weather that isn't cooperating. It was dreary and rainy yesterday and today, and might actually snow tomorrow!

I haven't practiced at all since my last lesson, and I don't relish the thought of practicing my canter in the snow, so I've postponed my lesson a couple of days. Hopefully the snow will turn out to be a false alarm, and I can get some practice in before my next lesson!

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Monday, September 21, 2009

I can think of better ways to go green...

I'm not so sure this will catch on, but I guess the company probably gets their materials for free!



Yep, it's paper made out of horse and cow manure. I don't know about you, but I'd feel a little like I needed to wash my hands after handling it!

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Curiously confident

On Friday during my lesson, I was thinking about how lucky I am that Panama is so curious and confident. I mentioned it to my trainer, and she agreed that he is really good about a lot of things.

It came up because someone in the neighborhood was running heavy machinery — perhaps cutting a tree down? I don't know what the equipment was, but it was loud. I've heard it before, recently, but I never pay much attention — and neither does Panama.

What makes horses react the way they do? Personality, experiences, etc.? When I first brought Panama to Denver, there was a dog on the property bordering the barn that would bark incessantly when I lunged him in the round pen. He was terrified of that barking dog, and I had a hard time getting him to stick to the rail on that side of the round pen.

Fast forward to current day, when he is just fine sharing a pasture with a dog, or even meeting one on the trail. Heck, the little dog where I board him now used to grab on to his tail when he'd run away, and he just learned to stop running so that she'd let go. He'll chase a dog away if it really annoys him, but he's no longer afraid of them.

What's the difference? Exposure to dogs? (The second barn he was at had an Australian shepherd that would help bring the horses in. The third place had a dog that would bark at Panama incessantly until he learned to chase him.) Two years' difference in maturity? Training? Personality? I really have no idea.

The other day when I had Panama tied up next to the tack room, the barn owner's cat started chasing a grasshopper on the other side of the gate. (I tie him to the huge wooden post the gate bolts to. I love that post as a place to tie because it's humongous and buried so deep it doesn't even budge if he freaks out and pulls back.) The grasshopper was making a run for the gate with the cat hot on its heels. Panama just put his nose down to the fence, right at the cat's level, and watched the cat bound right up to his face. He's been wanting to check that cat out since he first saw him almost a year ago, and I think that was the first time the cat had gotten that close!

And people — oh, Panama loves people, especially kids. During our lesson on Friday, a grandmother and her two granddaughters came up to the fence where the property borders the church property. I was talking to my trainer about what we were going to do next, and Panama kept turning around and trying to walk over to the fence, so I had to keep circling him back to where my trainer was. Finally she said, "Let him go over. He needs to see them."

Well, not because he was nervous about them. Not even the one girl's flourescent yellow skirt made him nervous, which actually surprised me. He quite happily walked up to the fence and greeted the girls. They were too well-behaved to stick their fingers through the fence and try to touch him, but he seemed to be content with seeing and smelling them.

And he is especially fascinated with my trainer's baby. He likes to smell his little fuzzy head, and he hasn't once tried to bite. (I'm always ready to give the reins a pull the instant he opens his mouth, but he's never even moved his lips — he just smells and blows on him a little.) It's the cutest thing I've ever seen.

Now, keep in mind that I'm not saying my horse is perfect. He's scared of his blue winter blanket (much more so than the black one, I think because of the color), so much so that I have to be careful of how I handle it when I put it on. He freaked out about the hose the other day, and ended up kicking me in the process. But on the whole, he is extremely curious and, I think, surprisingly confident for a four-year-old. What makes a hose scary and loud machinery not? Why does he know not to bite a baby, even though he'll mouth our dog Grace's back given half a chance?

Sorry for the long, meandering post, but I've been thinking about these things a lot lately and wanted to put them out there. I'm not sure there are any concrete answers, but I'm interested in hearing your thoughts on the matter, too.

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Yesterday's lesson: I cantered!

I had a fantastic lesson yesterday. As usual, I forgot to take pictures, so you'll have to make do with my eloquent prose (ha ha).

But first of all, another update on my leg. When I woke up yesterday morning, the swelling was nearly gone and my mobility was mostly back, so I decided to go through with my lesson. Walking around the pasture wasn't a problem, and although I was still moving slightly slower than usual, the movement seemed to loosen up the tight, bruised muscle a bit. And when I mounted for my lesson, I discovered that it didn't hurt at all — not even posting or two-point — presumably because all of my weight was off the outside of my thigh and knee, where the injury is.

Once I'd confirmed I could ride without any pain (at all!), and once I'd practiced my two-point for a little while, my trainer asked me to do the speed-up-slow-down exercise. The first time, Panama didn't seem to get it, so the next time I asked a bit "louder."

And he cantered.

I totally wasn't expecting it, and it took a stride or two before I even realized. I stayed in my two-point for several strides, basically until I started asking him to slow down. (I was thinking at that point, "sit back," but I did a clumsy job of it and loosened up more than I should have.) Meanwhile, my trainer was behind me, cheering and laughing.

And with that, the canter barrier was broken. (I've been thinking more and more about trying it, but I just never get around to suggesting it during the lesson.) My trainer had me try it again, but this time my legs were tired and I was expecting it and I didn't do so well. I totally lost my two-point, bounced around in the saddle awkwardly a few times (Panama put one ear back as if to ask, "What the heck are you doing back there, Mom?"), and then awkwardly transitioned to a walk.

We decided to try one more time, but first I got a drink and let my legs rest a moment. Then when Panama and I went back out, he was expecting the canter and wouldn't slow down his trot. So I walked him around the pasture a couple of times, and when I quietly asked for the trot I got a nice, controlled one. Then we rounded the corner, passed in front of my trainer, and I asked for the canter.

This time wasn't too bad. I lost my two-point after two strides, but this time I sat back and moved with Panama instead of bouncing around in the saddle. My trainer counted out four strides and then had me slow him down (a little bit at a time at first, she says). I still felt awkward about the whole thing, like I didn't do a very good job, but she seemed pleased.

I was tired and unwilling to push myself too far, just in case it was putting more strain on my leg than I realized, so I called it a day. I'm really excited about cantering, though, and I can't wait for our next lesson!

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Friday, September 18, 2009

More on helmets

I've posted a few times about helmets — on why you should wear them, my borrowed helmet, and, more recently, forgetting one (oops).

Today, Fugly Horse of the Day trumped all of my posts with this post, in which a woman who had suffered a major head injury while riding (falling) wrote to Parelli about their riders never wearing helmets — and received an absolutely atrocious response claiming that their training eliminates the need for helmets. (WTF?!)

Although Fugs wrote the post, the woman who'd forwarded the email to her left a chilling comment:

For those who do not wear a helmet, I just request that it is for a good, honest reason. If it doesn’t fit right, it will be uncomfortable and not do the job intended. If it fits and you think it is uncomfortable I can tell you what uncomfortable is and remember that I am lucky in that I will probably get back close to 90-100% of "me".

Uncomfortable is waking in the ambulance being told you had a horse accident and thinking they made a mistake. In and out of consciousness they tell you at the hospital that even though you are just outside of Seattle, they are flying you to the trauma hospital in Seattle, an ambulance will take too long. Waking up in ICU asking for pain meds and they want you to give a number representing the level of pain and you can’t give a number because you can’t count to 10. You wake up and think all is fine but you can’t understand sentences you are reading. You can’t find words to use. You are delayed in responding and changing subjects midstream. It has been 2 months and I am still dizzy at times and unbalanced when walking. Again, I am lucky in the amount of damage as therapy has helped a lot. I could go on but I think that is enough "uncomfortable" for an adult to make a decision or at least not use that as an excuse.


That woman is lucky to be alive. How many people never even wake up from a fall like that? Her comment definitely is reinforcing my decision to at least wear a helmet when I'm out on the trail and when I start doing more challenging stuff such as jumping. (Though who knows — maybe when I get my own helmet, I'll like it so much I'll start wearing it more often!)

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Updates

I am pleased to say that my leg was much better today. I was thinking it might be more stiff and sore this morning, it being the second day, but the opposite was the case — the swelling in my leg had actually nearly gone away.

Of course it came back after I was on the leg for a while, but I expected that. It's still not as bad: My mobility is better, and I haven't had to take any painkillers since yesterday evening. Because of where I was kicked, bending my knee is still a bit difficult: There is some significant bruising in the muscle that controls that motion, and also the swelling seems to be pushing on my kneecap a little. I can feel that the pain is in the muscle, though, not in the knee itself, so I'm not too worried.

Since I was feeling better, and since I knew Panama needed to be dewormed, I went out to the barn around late morning, as per my usual. I dewormed him first thing, and he was very good about it — which was good, because I'd been a bit worried about not being able to move with my usual speed if he put up a fuss. Probably not the best decision to put myself in that position, but I'm the only one who can give him dewormer, and it needed to be done.

Luckily Panama was being very good, and deworming him was a snap. Then I brushed him and, since my leg was feeling pretty good, decided to go for a quick bareback ride. I think we only rode for about ten minutes, but the point was to get on the horse and see if I could ride — which I could. In fact, bareback it didn't hurt my leg at all — though I think being in stirrups and posting probably would have hurt a little.

I'm so relieved to be getting around better today, and it made me feel good to get out to the barn for a little bit. I also noticed that Panama seems to be doing better, too — at least, it appears his package has benefitted from my attention (as I noticed when he kindly dropped it down to show me while I was grooming him). It's not the best sheath cleaning job in the world, but it'll do for now.

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Why vaccinations are important

This story just aired yesterday, reminding us of the importance of vaccinating our pets, including our horses:

First equine-rabies case diagnosed in El Paso

How scary. And it just goes to show that yeah, your horse contracting one of the diseases we vaccinate for might not be likely, but if it does happen it could well be fatal. And if it is, well, your decision not to vaccinate will have cost your horse its life.

I do need to check my vet records and make sure rabies is one of those my vet vaccinates for, I suppose. My vet doesn't do the 5-in-1 or 6-in-1 shots, because he says that the vaccine for Eastern and Western encephalomyelitis reacts badly with West Nile; therefore he does the Eastern/Western shot in the fall, and West Nile in the spring. I need to look and make sure that rabies is combined with one of those, however, because I know he's not giving Panama a separate shot for rabies!

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Holy $%#@, that hurts!

I got kicked today — more or less. I'm not sure if it was a kick, or me standing in the way of a canter/half-buck. In any case, it hurts like you wouldn't believe!

I went out to the barn today with the intention of riding again, just like yesterday. It was a lovely day, and as I was grooming Panama, he dropped his penis. This is something he does fairly frequently, but today I decided I ought to try to clean his sheath.

I got a rag wet, but of course by then he'd sucked it back up. I discovered that by mimicking the brushing motion along his back and sides with my hand, I was able to get him to drop again, and went to work.

He was pretty dirty, but he was very good about me cleaning his unmentionables. The little pervert seemed to enjoy me looking for a bean. (I thought I'd heard that is the part they usually don't like, but oh well.) The scrubbing, on the other hand, he wasn't as fond of.

A single rag only does so well, though, and pretty soon I realized we needed a rinse. The hose was caught and wouldn't reach where I had him tied, so stupid me decided I could lead him over there and hose him off while I held him.

He was being good, but I expected way too much of him. He wasn't crazy about being hosed down by the water trough, and quickly got himself boxed in on three sides between the fence (right side) water trough (front), and me (left side). To make matters worse, that scary hose was stretched out around the front of him, and (gasp!) in Mommy's hand!

I don't think I actually got any further than getting his legs wet before he went berserk. He blew past me, spinning me around, and next thing I knew my leg was hurting and I was watching him canter off. It happened too fast to see what happened, but I suspect he bucked or kicked out just a little bit to make sure his legs were free, and I just happened to be in the way. (Initially I thought he'd just caught me in the leg as he launched into a canter, but I'm starting to think he did kick a little, as he caught me too high on the leg to be anything else.)

Of course, he was trailing his lead rope, which frightened him. He ran in one door of the barn like the devil was on his tail, and out the other. As he ran out again I called to him (I was in way too much pain to try catch him), "Panama, you're going to have to let me catch you, I'm the only one who can fix it." He looked at me, slowed down, and then stopped, facing me.

Normally in that situation, I would have yelled, growled, and run him a little bit, but I didn't want to do that with the lead rope dangling. Plus, he was facing me and seemed to be waiting for me, so I took that as a sign of submission. In any case, I was hurting pretty bad at this point — I had dead-leg and my leg wouldn't support my weight comfortably, so I was limping.

I called Panama and tried to get him to come to me, but he wouldn't — he just stood there facing me, looking scared and somewhat sheepish. He was breathing hard and the lead rope was looped over his neck and trailing in the dirt at his feet (I'd had it loosely thrown over his withers, and had been holding it under his halter as I sprayed him down).

Somehow I mustered the will to go get him, despite the pain in my leg. He let me walk right up to him, of course — now he trusts me. I led him over to a chair and sat down while he stood there and inspected me.

After a few minutes, the pain eased up a bit, and I was able to put a little more weight on my leg. (I think this must have been the effects of the adrenaline, or even sheer will, because it only lasted long enough to do what I needed to do.) I took Panama over to the hitching post, tied him, and this time took the time to untangle the hose and do it right. Damned if I'm gonna have him rememering the hose trying to kill him, when I worked with him so much as a 2-year-old to get him over his fear of the hose.

With him tied safely, I turned on the hose and brought it over. Panama sidestepped, pranced, tucked his hind end under in preparation to run. I yanked on the lead and told him to cut it out. After a few little reprimands, he stood still and let me hose off his back feet.

I praised him, turned the hose off, and gave both of us a short break. Then I turned the water back on again. This time he stood still while I hosed down his back legs. I gave him lots of praise, turned the hose off, and gave him another treat.

After another short break, I decided to go for the gold. The objective was, of course, to be sure he wouldn't freak out about the hose next time I put it near his sheath. I hosed off his legs, and he stood still and tolerated it, so I aimed the hose at his unmentionables.

Of course, he was tucked up nice and tight, and nothing was going to change that. And he sidestepped the hose a little at first. But the important thing is, he let me do it (with the help of a little verbal reprimand for the sidestepping).

It was far from a successful sheath cleaning. But it was also far from a total fail.

For a little bit there, the pain in my leg abated enough that I actually contemplating riding a little after all. Thankfully I decided that wasn't a very good idea. I was still having problems putting my full weight on my leg, and I could tell that it was swelling up, interfering with the motion of my knee. I gave Panama a few treats and turned him loose.

It was good I did. Now that I'd accomplished what needed to be done, my body was free to feel the effects of getting kicked — and feel it, it did. I got dizzy and a little nauseated and had to sit down (a challenge because my knee wasn't bending well at all, at this point).

Driving home wasn't fun, either. My leg was stiffening up, and the pain was traveling down and pooling in my knee and ankle. And of course it was my right leg, so I had to drive with it.

When I got home, I stripped off my pants to find that the outside of my lower thigh was swollen up like half a grapefruit:

The effects of getting kicked by a horse

I took a couple of Motrin, grabbed some ice, and settled myself on the couch with my computer and a bunch of pillows. It took me a while to get comfortable — to figure out propping it up actually made it hurt more, and a bag of frozen veggies worked better than a rock-solid cold pack — but now that the Motrin and ice have done their jobs, it only hurts when I flex the muscle.

My outlook has improved greatly since the pain has diminished, but I'm still terribly disappointed that I didn't get to ride today. I also had to postpone my lesson for tomorrow. Hopefully I won't be laid up for too long!

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Speed control

In my last post (about Panama's cute behavior), I mentioned Friday's riding lesson, but then I forgot all about my promise to blog about it. Part of that was because I had a decidedly un-horsey weekend. It's interesting to me that I find it harder to ride on the weekends than during the week.

(Oh, fine, I'll admit it — it's because Michael is home, I want to spend time with him, and it's practically impossible to get him to come out to the barn with me.)

Anyway, my trainer had me work a lot on my two-point. She's also harassing me about keeping my feet back and my heels down — I thought I was pretty good about the former, but I guess I must suck at both, judging by how often she has to remind me!

Another exercise she had me try was posting up two beats and down one — to demonstrate that I wasn't using my leg muscles enough, and was letting my weight fall back into the saddle too much.

Toward the end, when she said my two-point was looking much better, she had me do something new: ask for a faster trot while in the two-point. She was unsurprised when I immediately tensed up and lost my nice form. "I was afraid he was going to canter," I said, to which she answered, "I know."

No, we still haven't cantered. In fact, I have a feeling that all this work on my two-point, pestering me about my leg position, building up my leg strength, etc. is her roundabout way of getting me ready to canter. I think she's trying to build my confidence (as well as my strength) by making me work on exercises that require a lot of leg control.

But I digress. She explained that I need to be able to anticipate his faster movement when I ask for it, so that I can stay with him and not get left behind. I tried it a few more times, and she said I was getting it.

She wanted me to work on the speeding up and slowing down before our next lesson, so that's what I started out with today. I was amazed at how much more quickly I tired out when my trainer wasn't there. I guess she's better at getting me to push my limits than I realized — when she's present, at least!

I practiced transitioning from a slower trot, to a faster trot, back down to a slower trot while in the two point. Then for fun, I did the same thing in a posting trot. Interestingly, this exercise seems to be benefitting both of us: I'm gaining confidence about going faster, for one thing. I stopped worrying about him cantering instead of trotting faster — well, okay, mostly because I knew he knew what I wanted. But I can also feel that I'm less worried about going faster. I feel more in control.

The other thing that has happened was completely unexpected: Panama has become more sensitive to my speed cues. It's like it suddenly clicked for him that I want to control his speed as well as his gait. Until recently, I was always having to ask him to slow down. Finally he figured out that I preferred a slow, even trot — particularly when I'm working on something. Once he realized that, he got really good at giving me the pace I prefer.

But intentionally speeding up and slowing down in the trot has led to something of a revelation for him. He suddenly gets it. And he is oh so responsive when I ask him to trot faster or slower. It's quite satisfying to feel him respond to my cues!

After we had practiced for about 15 minutes, I decided to ride in the field as a treat for both of us. For one thing, the pasture is a dirt lot, and since the barn owner has been harrowing it too often (grrr), it's pretty dusty — especially so today, since he'd just harrowed it yesterday. I wanted to give us a break from the dust. But it also had been a while since we'd ridden off the property, so it seemed like a nice luxury.

I started out by walking and trotting Panama in the flat corner of the field. I was really pleased to find that he remained responsive to my faster-trot/slower-trot cues out in the field, instead of doing his usual one-speed trail trot: the Excited Trot. He admittedly wasn't as responsive as he'd been in the pasture, but it was still an improvement.

We were clearly having a good day, so I decided to go ahead and walk Panama across the field to the trail. Today he was unusually interested in the soccer field and playground to our left, and kept trying to walk that way (which was a bit annoying, but manageable). We made it to the trail without incident, so I walked him a little ways down it. He shied away from the trash can on the first pass, so we circled back and passed it again, this time without a reaction. I think he honestly forgets it's there.

I had forgotten to wear my helmet off the property like I usually do, though, so we didn't go any further. I just didn't want to tempt fate any more than I already had. We turned around and worked on the concept of not rushing home for most of the way back. Then I rode him in the flat part of the field for about 10 more minutes before taking him back home.

One final note: Another thing I was working on a lot today was figuring out a comfortable rein length while off the property. Panama tends to hold his head higher when we're on the trail, so I have to ride with a shorter rein than I do when we ride in the pasture. But I also tend to ride with more contact on the trail — whether that's practical or paranoid, I don't know, but today I was trying to find a happy medium between a loose enough rein to be comfortable for him, and a tight enough rein that I wouldn't lose control if he spooked and threw his head up.

All in all, our ride lasted for nearly an hour: 20 minutes in the pasture, and 30 minutes in the field and on the trail. I hope to be able to do about the same tomorrow!

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Cuteness

I love all the cute things horses do, especially the things that seem unique to them. One such thing happened today, and I thought I'd share it.

I've mentioned before how Panama is much more affectionate after a ride. Lately he's been really vocal too. When I tie him up, anytime I start walking back over toward him — from the tack room after putting away his saddle or with a treat in my hand, from the hose after wetting the sponge (he likes being sponged off after a ride), etc. — he nickers to me.

Today we had a lesson (more on that later). Afterward I tied him up and unsaddled him, and as usual he nickered when I walked out of the tack room and gave him a treat. Then I left him tied and walked with my trainer to the gate. When I started walking back, he graced me with a long half-whinny-half-nicker. I laughed and said, "Oh, yeah?" To which he promtly nickered again. "Really?" Nicker. "Yeah?" Nicker.

He kept this up until I was standing right next to him. It was like he was having a conversation with me (albeit one that probably consisted of "Hi Mom!" "Hi Mom!" "Hi Mom!"). Seriously, how much cuteness can one horse display???

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sleeping under saddle and the new bit

I got the cheek pieces for Panama's trail bridle back yesterday, and today we rode in them the first time. I'd also gotten a new bit specifically for the trail bridle, so I wanted to see how he did with it.

We mostly just meandered around the pasture. He was reluctant to stop at first, but he always is, so I don't think it was the bit. All in all, I think he seems to like the new bit. But more about that in a moment.

While we were riding, one of the neighbors pulled up to the fence in his truck and parked. While he and the barn owner chatted, Panama was highly distracted by the oh-so-interested vehicle parked right on the other side of the fence. Finally I let him walk over and stare at the truck.

Of course I got drawn into conversation. Panama tried to sneak a little closer to the barn owner a couple of times (to bite the end of the mucking fork, sniff his leather gloves, etc.) but I corrected him and he subsided. Next thing I knew, it had been a while and he'd hardly moved.

The barn owner was surprised too. At my request, he even rattled the fence a little. Panama didn't budge.

"Do they sleep with their eyes open?" the barn owner wanted to know.

I laughed. "No, he's just in a zone."

But it really was kind of like napping. Surprisingly, he wasn't annoyed about my lapse in attention, either, the way he would be if he was tied. I suspect this is because I was stroking his neck and withers most of the time I was chatting (which probably also contributed to his extreme relaxation).

The neighbor started getting ready to leave, and I knew he would be starting his truck at any moment. I purposely didn't move Panama, because I wanted to know how he'd take it.

Like a champ, as it turns out. I felt his muscles jump under me, and he sort of leaned away from the fence, but he didn't move his feet at all!

Mommy was so proud.

We rode for a few more minutes, got a little trotting in, and then I dismounted. Despite the lack of a workout, he was a bit sweaty under the saddle pad, so I gave him a little sponge bath. (I always do if he's sweaty after a ride. That horse is sufficiently spoiled, I can tell you that!)

Anyway, my original goal had been to get some pictures of the handsome new trail bridle. I completely forgot, but I did get some pictures of the bit. The owner of the local tack shop helped me pick it out. It's a 4 1/2 inch eggbutt snaffle, and she said it's the second bit that goes on a dressage bridle. Not knowing much about dressage, I can only imagine what that setup looks like, but she says that the little rings and the pronounced curve in the bit work well for a horse with a really little mouth. Panama certainly seems to like it!

Gold-toned dressage horse bit

Gold-toned dressage horse bit

Tomorrow I'll try to remember to get pictures of the whole setup. He looks very handsome in his new trail bridle!

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Movie day

As some of you may know if you follow Nuzzling Muzzles and saw my comment there, I spent the holiday weekend sick. It was either the worst cold I've EVER had, or it was the flu — but whatever it was, it put me completely out of commission for several days.

Although I was feeling better yesterday, I was still weak and didn't feel like doing much, so I decided to take the day off (more or less — I still worked a bit in the evening). I allowed myself to sleep in (since I believe that nothing gets you well faster than lots of extra sleep) and then spent the rest of the day camped out on the couch, watching horse movies.

The first movie I watched is one of my favorite horse movies: Spirit. Yes, okay, it's animated, but it's also one of the best horse stories I've ever seen, not to mention it's got some of the best movie music I've ever heard! If you haven't seen this one, humor me and rent it sometime.

This is the first time I've watched this movie since all the talk of rounding up and euthanizing mustangs. In the beginning of the movie, Spirit's narration tells you that the mustang is the symbol of the West. So much has changed since this movie was made... Have we, as a society, lost our reverence for these beautiful animals?


I also watched Black Beauty, a movie that I own but can't remember ever watching. I always loved the book, both when I read it as a child and again as an adult. As an adult, my enjoyment of the book was altered and enhanced by knowing that the author, Anna Sewell, wrote the story as a commentary on how horses of the day were commonly treated. What a creative way to protest, not to mention to educate children on how horses should be treated!

The movie is a pretty good adaptation of the book and had me in tears at pretty much every other scene. However, I'm not sure I would rate it among my favorite horse movies.

What are your favorite horse movies?

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Sunday, September 6, 2009

More trail exploration

Scouting out the trails with the dogs

Yesterday Michael and I took the dogs and scouted out the trails near the barn some more, starting with where we'd left off last time. And this time I remembered to take pictures!

Last time we had turned around near a park, so we just parked out car in the park's parking lot and walked up to the trail from there. Here we are facing as of yet unexplored territory:

Exploring a horseback riding trail with the dogs

And looking behind us:

Exploring Denver horse trails with the dogs

As you can see, the trail here is very wide with lots of vegetation and partial shade. It's a lovely stretch of trail and I think Panama and I will enjoy riding it very much.

About half a mile from the park where we started, the main trail curves to the left, while another trail branches off to the right and crosses under a fairly main road. The trail to the left has a minor water crossing for the horses, with a bridge for cyclists and joggers:

Denver's High Line Canal trail

But this time I was more interested in checking out the right fork, to see how scary the tunnel was. First, though, there was a long, narrow concrete bridge to cross the canal:

The Big Dry Creek trail where it branches off of the High Line Canal trail

I'd definitely be dismounting and leading Panama across that the first few times. There's a decent drop on either side of the bridge to the canal bed (no water in it right now).

On the other side of the bridge is a steep wooden bank down to the path, which is concrete — another reason to lead Panama the first few times. If he trots down the wooden part, which is he likely to do, he'll slip when he gets to the concrete.

Here is the wooden part as seen from the bottom, going back across the bridge on our way back:

Bridge on a horse trail in Denver

Anyway, after the bridge is the Dreaded Under Street Crossing I've heard so much about from my friends who live in the area:

Big Dry Creek trail under-street crossing

It's also narrow and long, and it does have those anti-pigeon nesting boxes on the wall above your head that make some soft, but strange, sounds. The roof isn't very high, either, so on the whole I'll bet it will feel pretty claustrophobic to a horse.

After you emerge from the tunnel, the trail is pretty, albeit a bit narrower...

Big Dry Creek trail

...but it's not very far to the next tunnel.

Big Dry Creek trail under-street crossing

We turned around at that point and headed back to the car. Next time I want to take the left fork and explore the main trail a bit. I'll definitely be taking Panama that way first — the bridge and the tunnel aren't impassable, but I want him to have a little more experience on the trail before we attempt those obstacles.

High Line Canal trail at Big Dry Creek

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Saturday, September 5, 2009

Hello, goodbye, and trotting bareback without falling off!

Here's an idea for encouraging your horse to care more about when you come and go: Take a horse that is used to (and spoiled by) getting lots of attention every time you're at the barn, and then for two days straight, show up and leave right away, without time for anything more than a quick hello.

I made three such visits over the last 24 hours. Last night we stopped by to get betadine and furacin for my mother-in-law, whose horse recently injured himself. This morning I stopped by to get my bridle, so that I could take it to the tack shop with my trail bridle for comparison (my trail bridle needed to be altered so that it would fit). And then this afternoon I stopped by again, to try on the trail bridle one more time and report back to the tack store owner on how much shorter the cheek pieces needed to be.

(The trail bridle is getting altered, by the way, and I should have it back sometime mid-week. I'll take new pictures and blog about it then.)

Anyway, all the hellos and goodbyes were obviously really confusing Panama. He'd stand there and stare at me every time I arrived or left. The last time I arrived today, he actually nickered at me several times in greeting — a rarity for him.

After running all my errands, I finally had an opportunity to spend some time at the barn. I've been waiting to ride since our failed lesson on Wednesday, and I didn't want to let another day get past me. However, it was getting close to the horses' dinner time, so I opted to ride bareback to save time.

As it turned out, dinner was a bit late, so I had longer to ride than anticipated. Panama took this opportunity to give me the little kick in the butt I needed to accomplish something I've been needing to for quite a while now: trotting bareback. He's young and hasn't filled all the way out yet (or maybe it's just because he's a smaller horse), so he's narrow and a little slap-sided (as my saddle fitter calls it). As a result, there's not a very big margin of error when you ride him bareback — there's not much time between slipping sideways and falling off.

Because of this, I've been very hesitant to trot him bareback — but since reading Horse, Follow Closely, I've been more interested than ever in overcoming that particular failing of mine. Pony Boy claims that if you position your legs correctly on the horse, you can even post the trot bareback, so today while circling the pasture at a walk, I worked on "posting" the walk: lifting my seat bones off his back for two steps, then sitting for two steps.

It was hard, but to my delight I found I could do it. And that's when Panama kicked me in the butt (figuratively). As we rounded one corner of the pasture, I was thinking really hard about trotting, trying to envision it. I felt like I could do it — my imaginings felt almost real. And I must have been sending out signals to Panama unintentionally, because as we rounded the corner he started to trot, realized I wasn't actually asking him to, and slowed back down to a walk.

As it turned out, though, that's what I needed, and I decided to just go with it. Once Panama wasn't trying to anticipate the trot anymore (which only took a few seconds), I gave him a very soft cluck (and no leg at all — he is very sensitive and I didn't want him lurching forward on me!).

Panama started trotting immediately but tentatively. (He's used to me not wanting to trot bareback, and he always does his best to take care of his mommy!) Almost right away I pulled him back down to a walk, but I'd done it, and I didn't fall off!

I trotted him again... and again... and again. After a couple of times, he stopped being so tentative about it, but by then I was gaining confidence. I noticed I was hunching, like I was trying to scrunch down as close to his body as possible; but once I sat straight and tried to sit back, I found trotting was easier. We trotted for a little longer each time (and he become more and more reluctant to slow down after just a few strides).

Of course, all thoughts of posting flew right out of my head once I actually started trotting — I'm just working on sitting the trot right now. I figure I'll try posting once I'm a bit more confident in my ability to stay on his back.

For now, though, this is an amazing achievement for me, one I've wanted (but didn't quite have the guts to try) for a long time!

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Friday, September 4, 2009

Donations to save horses

When I came back from my hiatus, I shared a headline about a jackass horse owner who was threatening to publicly slaughter his horses in response to a zoning dispute with the county.


According to an incident report, "It would be done in public, he would kill one every day for a week on the front steps of the court house, at CSU and other public places. He would stab them in the belly three or four times, killing the foal and then he would bash the mare's brains in."


Publicity stunt or not, a normal person just doesn't think like this — and someone who does has no business owning horses, in my opinion. Fortunately, it seems the issue will be resolved in the horses' best interests: Today the horses were seized.

Just in case the above quote doesn't convince you that this man isn't right in the head, this is what the guy had to say at the press conference (emphasis added):

He continued, "I cared only about the horses and if it took this to cause public attention, to get the news out . . . the sheriff out to take care of these horses then you know what, my game worked, and I'm a success. The horses are going to be fed, they're going to be taken care of and I have a feeling, I have a real good feeling that this sheriff isn't going to allow one of those horses to go to a slaughter house," Parker said.

Cooke, who was standing nearby as Parker addressed reporters, confirmed that the horses would not go to slaughter houses.

Parker says his reasoning behind the execution was to avoid slaughter houses which he cited as a "real serious problem."
Where does this guy get off thinking that repeatedly stabbing a pregnant mare in the belly and then bashing her brains in is better than a slaughter house?!

This is a local story, so some people on the Colorado Horse Forum were talking about how to prevent the horse executions from taking place. When the NHRA got involved with the situation, the thread turned into a discussion of how to donate, but the horses were still in the man's possession so one or two people (myself included) expressed concerns about donating while the horses were still on the property. I was afraid that once the horses were fed and cared for, he'd change his mind about relinquishing the horses — the last thing I want is to see my hard-earned money go to helping a lunatic keep his horses.

But now that the horses have been seized, I'm considering donating some money toward the care of the horses.

Which reminds me of an idea I've toyed with: Donating all revenue from this blog to a horse rescue of my choice. I would of course aim for complete transparency, and publish earnings reports that show how much ad revenue this blog is bringing in. (The ad revenue from my other blogs I'd still keep.)

The only problem is that this blog isn't bringing in a whole ton of revenue right now. For example, out of the $52 in my account already, only $2 is from this blog. As a result, I wanted to mention my idea and see if my readers would be willing to get on board with it. What are your thoughts?

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Achieving clarity

I mentioned in my post yesterday that Panama started showing signs of lameness during my lesson yesterday. It got worse quickly, but my trainer wasn't able to see which leg it was. Although I am getting better at feeling which foot he's on from the saddle, feeling lameness is totally new to me, so I had no clue.

Also, remember I was wondering if it had something to do with his feet, since the farrier had just been out the day before. My trainer had noticed that his left front foot was slightly longer in the toe than the other, so today I took a picture to show you:

My horse's front feet with the angle being slightly different on each

It's funny how sometimes pictures will highlight something you don't see as clearly in person. I don't think it's quite this obvious standing next to my horse, but you can really see it in the picture — perhaps because of the angle of the camera? Anyway, see how the left front is a little longer, and the right front is slightly more upright?

I picked out his feet and started to lunge him in a counter clockwise circle, so that I could watch his left side. He was clearly reluctant, but he obliged his crazy mommy, even though he must have been so disappointed in me.

At first he moved fine — no sign of lameness. I was actually expecting this, since it took a while for the lameness to show up yesterday. And sure enough, after ten minutes I started to notice he was moving funny with his left front.

It's hard to explain what I was seeing — for the most part I just knew it wasn't right. I'd been lunging him for ten minutes, and focusing on each limb in turn until I got a feel for how it was moving, so I noticed right away when he started moving the left front a little differently. He stopped moving it so smoothly, for one thing — it started looking jerky and awkward. He'd pop up in the shoulders sometimes when taking a step with his left front, or stumble a little with it. And then his steps with that foot started shortening up, getting a little stiffer and more awkward.

I stopped him at that point — I'd seen what I needed to, and didn't need to push him to the point where he got sore and started having problems as bad as yesterday's.

I think the long toe and different angle on that foot being off is causing him to have to compensate for it, which in turn causes him to become fatigued and sore over time. That would explain why the problem doesn't show up immediately. I called the farrier and he'll be coming out a little later this afternoon to fix it.

I am glad that the farrier will be able to come out right away, relieved that it seems like the problem should be an easy one to fix, and very proud that I was able to see it on my own today when I lunged him!

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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Imperfect communication

Today I had a lesson on Panama. Right off the bat I noticed something was off. At first I thought I was riding funny (well, actually, I still think I was). Then I noticed Panama was being rather crabby — he kept putting his head down and pulling on the bit.

My trainer had me practice my posting and my two-point, which was fine because I was feeling a little rusty from not riding much last week. After we'd been riding for about twenty minutes, I nudged Panama into a trot and promptly noticed something oddly lurching about his gait. I immediately slowed him down and asked my trainer if he'd been limping — because that's exactly what it felt like he was doing.

Unfortunately, she hadn't seen it, and the next time I asked him to trot he didn't do it. A few minutes later, though, the same thing — except more pronounced. Again I slowed him down and told my trainer, "He's definitely doing something."

She agreed that she'd seen it, but hadn't been able to tell which leg he was favoring. So I trotted him a little more so she could have another look (since I wasn't feeling it at the walk at all). I felt so guilty doing it, but we had to try to figure out which foot it was, right?

In the end, my trainer couldn't tell for sure, although she thought it was a back foot. But then she noticed that one front foot is slightly longer in the toe than the other, putting the pastern at a different angle. Since the farrier was just out yesterday, I called him, and he said basically the same thing as my trainer: See how Panama is doing tomorrow, and if he's still lame, my farrier will come out the same day and take a look.

I've been thinking about it and regardless, I think I will probably have him come out and fix that long toe — since it seems to be putting everything at a different angle on that foot, I think it should be fixed. However, I'm also at a loss as to how that could cause him to become progressively more lame over the course of a lesson. Any ideas?

I also feel a bit bad because I think by fussing with the bit early on, he was trying to tell me something was wrong. Unfortunately he also tends to fuss with the bit when he gets bored, so even though he was more persistent about it today, I didn't realize it meant something different this time.

It would be so helpful sometimes if they could just speak English, wouldn't it?

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

There is a saddle in my kitchen!

my horse saddle

I brought my saddle home on Friday to clean it and wash the saddle pad. Before throwing the saddle pad into the washing machine, I tried out a trick I've heard of: using a curry to loosen embedded hair on the underside of the pad. It worked like a charm!

It also occurred to me for the first time that since my girth is fabric, I can throw that in the washing machine with the pad. I threw my saddle cover in there too while I was at it.

I used Leather New on the saddle this time, just like I had when I cleaned my bridle recently. I've oiled the saddle a couple of times before with neatsfoot oil, but apparently it didn't need it because the oil just wouldn't absorb. The Leather New didn't fare much better, as it left it a bit sticky in places, so next time I'll try Kate's suggestion of regular bar glycerin soap.

clean English saddle

Check out the nice new stirrup leathers! One of my old ones (which I'd bought used to save money when I first bought my saddle) started cracking where the stirrup usually sits. I don't know how risky that is, how likely they are to break, but I decided to play it safe and buy new ones.

I also got some other tack — new reins to replace my cracked ones, and a trail bridle. The trail bridle still has to be altered a bit — the side pieces that hold the bit on are too long, even though it's cob sized — but here is a picture of the halter part of it on!

Cob-size horse trail bridle without the bit

Doesn't he look cute in it? You wouldn't know at all by his expression that it took us about half a dozen tries, and almost as many panic attacks, before he let me put it on him. Apparently it looks very different going over his head than his regular bridle!

More pictures soon!

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