Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Persistence pays off

This morning I had plans to go on a trail ride with a couple of boarders who ride regularly once or twice a week during the nicer weather. Unfortunately, when I got there I discovered Panama was in a tizzy — someone was driving a tractor around on the road, right by the far end of Panama's corral, and apparently it had him all revved up. He was on high alert in the cross ties, pawing and pooping, I guess because he could still hear the tractor and it made him nervous. He even tried a couple of little half-rears, like he was going to try to break out of the cross ties, but I pitched my gloves at him and that ended that.

I decided to ride him in the outdoor arena a little while everyone else was still getting ready. My goal was to walk him in circles and give him something to do to calm him down, but it didn't work very well — at least not that I could tell at the time. In fact, he even bolted on me once when a truck came down the driveway — something that wouldn't normally bother him, but today sent him into a frenzy. He cantered for 2 or 3 strides before I was able to pull him up, and we went back to circling.

As the other riders got ready, they started to congregate in the field right behind the outdoor arena. Panama seemed to know we were going with them, or at least that he wanted to go with them, because he got upset every time it looked like they were going to ride away. I was having a hard time keeping him at a walk, and I think he tried a half-hearted buck once when I used a one-rein stop to keep him from running away again.

I was pretty close to not going on the ride after all, but part of me didn't want to give in. Plus, I was thinking he might be better on the trail, surrounded by other (calm) horses. So I opened the gate from horseback and rode out into the field to join the other boarders.

I can remember thinking as we left that I was going to regret my decision, but in actuality I ended up being really glad I'd stuck with it. Panama was tense for the first ten minutes or so, but he did calm down and was really good for the entire trail ride. He listened well and didn't spook once! He tiptoed around the junk pile and shied at a few rocks, and every time we came across one of the bright blue porta potties he stared hard at it as if trying to figure it out, but that was it.

Despite my initial misgivings, we arrived back at the barn without incident. The other boarders kept saying how wonderfully he did, and how well I handled it despite how revved up he was at first, which was good for me to hear — I am pretty skeptical of my ability to handle him when he starts dishing it out like that, but it seems like perhaps I'm better at it now than I think.

I would love to go out again soon, but unfortunately it is supposed to rain tomorrow, with perhaps a little bit of snow overnight. Not much, I hope, as we'll go out again next week if the trails are dry by then!


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Taking it easy

Today was gorgeous — sunny and windy, but I heard it hit 80 degrees in the afternoon. I don't doubt it!

Despite the beautiful day, though, I was having a hard time motivating myself to go out to the barn. I really felt like staying in all day, blogging and working at a slower pace. (When I spend a lot of time out at the barn, I generally have to hustle so that I can still get my work done with the time I've got left, and it's harder to find time to blog.) I wasted so much time feeling guilty about staying home, though, that I finally headed out there around mid-afternoon.

And of course, I ended up being really glad I did. It was beautiful, if a little too windy for my tastes. I saddled Panama up and we went to the outdoor arena to ride. Within a few minutes, Panama's third best girl and her owner had joined us, and we rode for a while at a walk, side by side, chatting away.

I did get some trotting in when Flash took a break to pee, but kept getting stage fright, so her owner had to dismount and wait for her to relax enough to go. Panama and I trotted in circles at the other end in the meantime, but otherwise the theme of the ride was taking it easy.

We also went out and made a loop around the field. This involved riding past the junk pile that scared Panama into a spin and bolt a while back. Panama was even on the left side, which meant that he had a clear view of the concrete sewage tunnel that freaked him out so much before, and he still walked past it just fine. His head was up and his ears were perked, and he was looking around at everything, but he never once spooked or even tensed. Meanwhile, Flash was balking and spooking in place right beside us, and he still kept his cool. I was so proud of him!

On our way back, I spotted one of the boarders that does a lot of trail rides, turning her horse out to roll in the outdoor arena. I called out to her, and she invited me on their next trail ride. I'm looking forward to it — it'll be good to get out into the park again! The warm weather should hold for another couple of days before we get some rain and perhaps even a little snow, so I am taking advantage of this weather while it lasts!


Monday, March 29, 2010

Winning over crabby mares

Sometimes you just have to lie down and take it!

Crabby mare and my napping gelding

Crabby mare and my  napping gelding

It was a lovely day out at the barn today. Pretty much everyone was napping.

A horse napping

I groomed Panama, but by the time I got done shedding him out, currying his legs, and trimming the dried mud from his fetlocks, I didn't much feel like a long ride. Therefore we only rode for about 15 minutes outside, but it was a nice relaxing ride!

Panama and Daisy seem to be doing well. Apparently she let him know who was boss yesterday afternoon at feed time, but I think that is to be expected. Otherwise, they are together quite a bit — perhaps more Panama's choice than hers, as he sticks to her like glue, but (as is evident from the pictures above) she isn't doing anything to discourage it. Watch out, Lady — you've got competition!


Down with Tony Meyers!

I know many of you don't like Fugly, but this is one cause I think everyone agrees is a good one.

Three years ago, a man named Tony Meyers commenced a violent attack upon a horse at a horse auction. The horse nearly died after he dragged her from his trailer with a barbed wire-wrapped halter, ran her over and shot her. She survived but it has taken almost three years for his case to come to trial and it’s going to be heard starting on Tuesday at the St. Martinsville Court.

This is an excerpt from today's Fugly post. I think we can all agree that Tony Meyers is the worst kind of horse owner and ought to be in jail, not free to buy more horses. Fugly is simply asking that we contact the local media and encourage them to run the story. The more publicity it gets, the more public interest, and the more likely he'll get the maximum sentence. Please send the media your emails (you can copy and paste from Cathy's phone script), and repost the plea on your blog, facebook, etc. No one should be allowed to get away with treating a horse like this!


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Mares in heat

Well, it's getting to be that time, and many of the mares at the barn are in heat right now. It means that there is a lot of ear-pinning and conversation going on, and it also means that Panama is even more interested than usual in all the girls.

By Thursday morning, by hand was no longer sensitive to friction (remember, I burned it with boiling water Tuesday morning), so I went out to the barn to ride. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea at the same time. Mozart, the new gelding in Panama's corral, and Zans were both being ridden in the indoor at the same time as Panama and I, since the outdoor arena was still too mucky from our last snowstorm.

Panama was doing pretty well with it, but that fell apart when Lady's owner brought her in, too. Lady's owner commented that she was uncharacteristically "up," and although it didn't occur to me at the time, I'll bet she was in heat like all the rest of the mares at the barn. In any case, Panama was very distracted with Lady around, wanting to speed up when her rider cantered her by us, and was so interested in getting to where she was all the time that I could practically feel all of his energy leaning in her direction.

Yesterday we also had a busy arena. Three young girls were having a group riding lesson, complete with a low crossrail set up toward one end of the arena. Add two other horses and riders, and two instructors (one of them mine), and me and Panama, and you have quite the crowd!

In retrospect, I think at least two of the mares in that crowded arena were in heat, because there was a lot of ear-pinning and whinnying going on. Every time one of the mares would whinny, Panama's head would shoot up and his ears would shoot forward. He did get used to it after a little bit, but in the beginning I could tell his mare radar was on overload.

Riding in a crowded arena was good for us, both days. I found that maneuvering around other riders kept me looking up and kept me from getting too bored, as there was always something new to focus on. On Friday we even walked over the low crossrails a couple of times, and then I asked my trainer to get on and jump Panama over them a few times just for fun — I wanted him to get some jumping practice, but since I don't really know how to jump I didn't think I was the best person to do it.

Today the arena was pretty busy again, but I decided not to ride — it was cold, and I really didn't have time anyway. Besides, Panama and Mozart got their new pasturemate today — a mare named Daisy, who was moved outside from the indoor barn because she wasn't handling the box stall very well. Panama followed her around, nose to tail, for her first twenty minutes in the corral; she squealed at him periodically, and kicked out a couple of times, but I think his interest in her has already won her over.

My gelding and the mare who just became his newest girlfriend

Now Panama has three girlfriends: his live-in girlfriend (Daisy), his mistress (Lady), and his long-distance girlfriend (Flash).


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Another Colorado snowstorm

We got hit with another snowstorm last night. Like many spring snows, it was really wet and heavy snow. It also fell pretty quickly — it started snowing around 5pm, and within a few hours looked like it had been snowing all day. The lawns, cars, trees, and roads were covered with soggy-looking snow, looking more like we had eight inches of waterlogged cotton balls. After that the snow slowed, and although it continued falling lightly all night, most of what we got fell yesterday evening.

This morning it was still misting snow. There was a ton of snow on the ground, so Michael stayed home from work. Turned out the roads were just wet, though, and when the sun came out around midday, the already-wet snow started melting like crazy. I was glad for the snow day, though, even if it wasn't entirely necessary.

We got out to the barn this afternoon, and I took Panama's blanket off of him for about an hour. It was still a touch chilly, and it will be cold tonight, though, so I put it back on before we left. The snow on the driveway was already melting, and everything out there was quite sloppy. I turned Panama out in the arena without his blanket, thinking he might want to roll, but the sloppy, wet snow was too gross for him. So instead I made snowballs, a couple of which he ate out of my hand like an apple, and a few of which I tossed onto his back to see what he'd do. (Nothing.)

Here's what the barn looks like after a half-melted wet snow (which will probably be almost all gone tomorrow):

The barn after a Colorado snowstorm in March

And Panama's corral:

The barn after a Colorado snowstorm in March

Shortly after snapping that picture, I called to Panama, "Do you want a carrot?" Both geldings' heads immediately shot up. Ha — I guess mine isn't the only horse who knows what that means.

Two geldings together

Panama and Mozart seem to be getting along pretty well. They appear to be on equal footing — neither is the boss, at least for now. They act more like brothers than anything else, and can eat right next to one another without any ear-pinning or other posturing.

Well, except for this incident.

Two geldings together


Two geldings together

I don't know what that little bite was all about, but it wasn't particularly aggressive. It was delivered pretty mildly, and may have been the equivalent to a nudge to move over — or perhaps just a playful or friendly bite? In any case, Panama moved over a foot and they both went on eating like nothing had happened.

Mozart did look pretty pleased with himself, though.

A black gelding named Mozart


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Runaway horses

Poor Panama. Just when he was recovering from the old gelding's death, the old mare, Breezy, was moved. They were just starting to buddy up, too, and I was thinking that at least there was a bright spot in the loss of KZ.

My gelding and his older mare pasturemate

I guess she left yesterday. My trainer said that while she was teaching a lesson, she could hear Panama hollering the entire time. She didn't realize what was wrong until she noticed the old mare was gone.

We have another snowstorm coming in tonight, so I was out this afternoon to blanket Panama. (I was originally supposed to have a lesson myself, but after I burned my hand this morning by accidentally pouring boiling water over it, I realized I wasn't going to be able to hold the reins comfortably and canceled.) It was raining when I arrived, so Panama and Mozart were hanging out in the shed, but I guess they'd been running back and forth hollering all day — especially Panama. And when I took him out of the corral, Mozart stood out in the rain and whinnied for him repeatedly.

Although my hand wasn't hurting as much thanks to the ibuprofen I took, I still wasn't going to ride, mainly because I'd taken my saddle, saddle pad, girth, and bridle home to clean everything up — and forgotten to bring it all back. (I do have a trail bridle and an extra set of reins, so I could have ridden bareback, but I'm not risking that when he's upset about losing a pasturemate and there's a storm rolling in.) Instead, I took advantage of the fact that he was damp to do another session with the blow dryer.

This time I had my own blow dryer and an extension cord (the former from FreeCycle — I love FreeCycle! — and the latter something Michael picked up for me last time he went to the store). Panama found he couldn't move out of the blow dryer's reach, but as I expected, it wasn't a big deal. He didn't act as ticklish on his flanks and loins, this time — though he did just about blast off like a rocket when I unthinkingly blew it on his belly without any warning. Silly horse!

It was too warm still for a heavy blanket — despite the storm coming in, it was still 50 degrees when I got there, even though it's supposed to drop down to 23 tonight — and the sun had come back out, so I put his rain sheet on and then went off to find someone to chat with.

I found out a couple of things — first of all, that Panama and Mozart will have a new pasturemate soon, a former pasture horse horse who is being moved from the indoor barn because she isn't handling a box stall very well. She's on the young side — 8 years or so — so I'm thinking Panama is going to be getting a new girlfriend.

I also heard that a horse got loose today. He jumped over the fence of his turnout pen for no apparent reason, jumped another fence at the edge of the property, ran in a giant loop through the park, went for a swim in the lake, ran along the frontage road to the highway, and ran quite a ways along the highway before he was finally caught. I guess the highway was blocked off for a while because of him, and by the time they caught him he'd worked himself up into a ridiculous lather.

Anyway, by the time I left the barn the temperature had dropped nearly 15 degrees and it was starting to rain again. Within five minutes of arriving home, it had turned to snow. It's coming down pretty fast now — they are predicting as much as a foot of snow overnight (!) with a few more inches tomorrow. Thursday should be 42 and sunny, though, and Friday is supposed to be 52 and rainy, so I'm sure it'll be gone again quickly!


Review of Cherry Hill's How to Think Like a Horse

iconAt a bookstore a couple of months ago, I spotted this book and spent the rest of our visit flipping through it. Although I love Cherry Hill's books, I read about half of it during that visit and decided I didn't think it was worth buying. After checking it out from the library, though, I've changed my mind — there was actually a lot of useful stuff in the book, and it wasn't geared toward beginners quite as much as I initially thought. I will probably end up buying it at some point, as it seems like a good one to have on my bookshelf.

I really like many of Hill's thoughts about horses. I have another book of hers, Cherry Hill's Horsekeeping Almanac, which I've been reading in bits and pieces for a while now, and I love it. Her ideas about horses seem to be practical and sound, and I like her balance between traditional and natural horsemanship.

One of the things I noticed is that this book supports something I've always said, that I think it's just fine, and even helpful, to use voice commands with your horse. Some people who follow natural horsemanship claim that voice commands are unnecessary and confusing, but I personally find that they are useful and comfortable for both me and Panama. Here are a few things that Hill has to say about it:

"Good horsemen can often be observed communicating with a horse in a type of low-level 'breaking patter,' a term from bygone cowboy days. It describes a type of low-volume mumbling a cowboy might use around a horse that he is training. The soothing tones calm the horse. Hence the term horse whisperer." (page 30)

"Although horses don't verbalize the way we do, they do respond to our voices. It is appropriate and productive to use voice commands when working with horses, especially for ground training, and especially when you are the main person handling a horse.

"The reason clinicians do not advocate voice commands more often is because most of them are talking constantly to the audience, and it would be difficult for a horse to distinguish a voice command out of all that. Voice commands are not customary in most show ring settings but they can be a means to an end such as "Whoa" when a reiner asks his horse for a sliding stop. In most at-home training situations, voice commands are not only appropriate but also very effective." (page 124)

Another thing I've often said that Hill appears to agree with me on is that you need to maintain a position of alpha over your horses. By this I don't mean an aggressive alpha, but I do mean a leader who must also be respected. Hill says:

"Humans occupy a position in the horses' pecking order, as well, so we must convince them not only that we are the top horse, but also that we are wise and fair leaders. For safety and smooth management, a human must be the top horse.

"Pecking order is most evident at feeding time. You can easily tell a human's rank among horses by watching as she feeds them. If the horses come charging into the person's space and she drops the feed and turns tail, one of the horses is definitely on top." (page 59)

There is an awful lot of information in this book, far more than the quotes I remembered to mark so that I could blog about them later. The book covers everything from body language to bad habits to training, and is a great resource for both beginners and people who already own horses. A little something here for everyone!


Monday, March 22, 2010

My first elk sighting

This afternoon after Michael and I left the barn, he pointed out a couple of elk just off one of the exits. Despite the fact that I've lived in Colorado almost all of my life, I'd never seen one in person (let alone practically in the suburbs), so I insisted that he circle back around and get off the highway so I could take some pictures.

It turned out there were four of them, two grazing right next next to the road and two above them on the hill. The one with the antlers was watching all the people stopping in their cars to look, while his companion mooned us. The two grazing didn't seem to care one bit that they were grazing within ten feet of the cars — just on the other side of the sidewalk.

At first I thought it was a bull and three cows, but I was wondering about their lumpy looking foreheads so when I got home I looked it up. Turns out they were all males — apparently when they shed their horns (which they do every year) they form bachelor bands for protection.

Seeing elk in person, they are not the majestic creatures you'd think. They are actually surprisingly awkward-looking, the way they are put together. But it was cool nevertheless!

Bachelor band of elk

Bachelor band of elk

Bachelor band of elk


Sunday, March 21, 2010

More calves

The other day I posted a picture of one of the cute calves that have been gamboling around the pasture out where I board my horse. They were all out today, enjoying the weather, playing and harassing their mothers.

Black cow and calf

There are a bunch of all-black calves, but there is one with a cute white face and a black-speckled nose. Her name is Sally.

White-faced calf


White-faced calf

I'm guessing Sally is more of a pet, since the others have numbers on their tags instead of names. Also Sally seems a little bit less afraid of people, like she's being handled by someone. She didn't come up to me, but she thought about it a whole lot harder than the others.

The calves are ridiculously cute, especially the way they play — just like puppies. One was chasing its mother, bouncing around at her heels as she plodded along, clearly unconcerned. Another ran behind its mother and peered at me from behind her legs when I came closer to the fence. Wish I'd gotten a picture of that!

Panama is really interested in the cows. Today I took him up to the fence and he sniffed noses with one before she snorted and backed away, but I think she was more scared of me than him. When I tried to lead Panama away, he didn't want to go! Sometimes I wonder if he'd enjoy life as a cow pony...

We had an exciting day today, so stay tuned for some more pictures!


Colorado snowstorm before and after

It always amuses me when people make comments about how bad they think the weather in Colorado must be. My out-of-state bloggy friends often say things like how lucky I am to be able to ride in the winter in Colorado, and that sort of thing.

You might know that we had a big snowstorm on Friday. Between late Thursday night and late Friday night, Denver got about 8 inches — possibly more in some areas — of snow. I suspect the barn is one of the places that got more, because it is right up against the foothills there, which often get hit worse — I guess because the mountain weather kind of leaks out onto the Front Range.

To illustrate why it is that I say winters in Colorado aren't that bad, I took before and after pictures. Here is what it looked like at the barn Thursday afternoon when I was there. It was at least 65 degrees and gorgeous:

The Front Range before a Colorado snowstorm

Here is the same view this afternoon, after a day and a half of sun. As you can see, the snow is virtually gone except for on the foothills and mountains, and the driveway is only slightly muddy. The sand footing in the arena was a bit waterlogged, but it'll probably be rideable by tomorrow afternoon.

The Front Range after a Colorado snowstorm

Truth be told, I probably could have gotten almost the same picture yesterday afternoon, but I forgot my camera. There was slightly more snow and it was muddier, that was the only difference. That's 8+ inches of snow, gone within 36 hours! And no, that's not uncommon in Colorado — I've lived here nearly all my life, and snow here doesn't melt, it evaporates.

This is why I've always ridden throughout the winter, even before I had an indoor arena! We may get some big storms in Denver, but not that often, and the snow doesn't stick around for very long afterward!


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Tennessee walking horse video

I hadn't really seen what a Tennessee walking horse's special gait looks like, so I was browsing YouTube looking for a good example. This video really stood out.

It's surprising how smooth it looks for the rider, considering how much the horse is moving, isn't it?


Thursday, March 18, 2010

New friends

When I got to the barn this morning, the first thing I saw was this:

New horse in my horse's corral

...A new horse in Panama's corral.

Next thing I saw was this:

My gelding and the old mare he is pastured with, sunbathing together

...Panama and Breezy napping together on the other side of the corral. What a surprise that was! They have been closer since KZ died, but even though Breezy was calling for him incessantly when I rode, she still was making him keep his distance somewhat in the corral. Said distance was just shrinking.

I guess, now that there is a new horse in the corral, Breezy has given up and accepted Panama as her companion. When I started walking out to get him, I noticed there was hay in and underneath the feeder partway down the south side of the corral, where Panama used to get his feed back when KZ and Breezy wouldn't let him near the troughs. There's a new third wheel, and this time it's not Panama!

There was definitely some tension when I went out to get Panama. I couldn't tell who was chasing who, whether Panama was getting chased or was blocking the new horse from coming up to me (I suspect the latter). Once I caught Panama, I had to run some interference in order to get out of the corral without the new guy coming right along with us.

I'd gotten to the barn too late to go for a trail ride, which turned out to be okay because Panama was so distracted. There was a lot going on at the barn, and it had him on edge and impatient. Our trail riding buddies, Zans and his mom, came back from a trail ride with another boarder around this time, and Lady's mom arrived as well. Then, while Panama and Lady were enjoying a short turnout together, the new horse's mom arrived as well.

It turns out that Mozart, who arrived last night, is on the older side — 21 — which I think is about perfect, since Breezy is older and Panama is a fairly submissive youngster who knows his place. As for his owner, she is young — a college student at the University of Denver — and although I'm not sure yet what I think of her, she seems okay. Regardless, we'll be seeing a lot of one another, as she will be at the barn around the same time as me on Mondays and Wednesdays. She also is excited about the idea of trail riding together — I didn't even get the words out of my mouth, and she was already all over it!

Although Panama and I didn't get to trail ride today, we did ride a little bit in the arena with our new friends, as well as Lady and her owner. We didn't do a lot; after a lesson Tuesday and our trail ride yesterday, I thought both of us would appreciate an easy day. Besides, Panama was quite distracted, not just with Lady but also with his new buddy. Eventually he settled down, though that might have been because Lady and Mozart left and he wasn't that interested in the other horse in the arena at that time.

Although today was beautiful, with temperatures in the high 60s, a blizzard is moving in tonight. Tomorrow is supposed to be about 40 degrees colder, and we're expecting 5 to 10 inches of snow. Gotta love Colorado! This is why I laugh when people comment about those terrible Colorado winters, though — Sunday is supposed to be in the mid 50s, with Monday right back up into the 60s. We may get the occasional snowstorm that makes national headlines, but don't be fooled — at least in Denver, the snow doesn't stick around long!

Oh, and just in case you didn't notice spring was here — check out one of the cute little babies! They have all been gamboling around the pasture next to the barn, and I just love them to pieces!

Spring calf!


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Horseback riding with friends - arena and trail

The theme of yesterday and today has been riding with friends... and still paying attention to Mom.

Both days have been gorgeous, so a lot of our friends have been out taking advantage of the good weather. Yesterday during our lesson, Panama's girlfriend Lady was being ridden in the outdoor arena at the same time as us, which was the biggest challenge we've faced yet. He's ridden in the same arena as his buddies before and been fine, but Lady is Different with a capital D. (Remember how easily he chooses Lady over his friends?)

As I expected, he was quite distracted with Lady around. Even before she and her owner made it to the arena, he could see her being tacked up, and tried to speed up every time he was heading in her direction. He continued to be very distracted once she was in the arena with him. We rode on one end and she and her owner rode on the other, and (under my trainer's tutelage) I worked on keeping his focus on me instead of Lady.

We didn't accomplish anything major yesterday, but we did reinforce the idea that when we're riding, he needs to pay attention to me, no matter who is around or what is going on. We had to work on little things like keeping a round circle at one end of the arena — his tendency was to resist turning away from the end where Lady was, so our circle was rather jagged for a little while. We spent our entire hour on paying attention in the face of the Supreme Distraction, and I think we are that much the better for it — especially since I would like to be able to trail ride with Lady's mom this year!

Today I rushed out to the barn, hoping that Zans's mom would be out there. Zans is an older Fresian/Thoroughbred cross, and although he and Panama have never played together, his mom and I are often there at the same time. Zans and Panama spend a lot of time in the tie stalls next to one another, so as far as they are concerned, that makes them buddies.

I was hoping Zans and his mom would be hitting the trail this morning, and to my delight, I got there just in time. I didn't take the time to ride Panama in the arena first, which in retrospect I probably should have done just to get him focusing on me a little better, but he was still pretty good.

Zans walks at about half the speed of Panama, so I felt like I was hanging on the reins quite a bit at first to keep Panama from crawling up Zans's butt. (Panama also liked sticking his nose under Zans's tail or nipping his butt whenever I wasn't paying enough attention. To Zans's credit, only once did he swish his tail at Panama.) Eventually Panama adapted to Zans's pace, but the mincing steps he took to keep pace with Zans cracked me up. I could totally feel through the saddle how much Panama was holding himself back in order to stay with Zans.

We did have three spooks. One was in the field before we went out onto the trail — we took a turn around the field so that I could see how Panama was doing. He was pretty excitable at first, and did a little jump at nothing. No biggie.

The next spook was a cat jump in place — the kind where they land with all four legs splayed out, like they're bracing themselves against the possibility that the ground might suddenly move out from under them. This time he spooked because Zans, who was in front of us, crow-hopped when he caught sight of the porta-potty over by the campgrounds. (Never mind that Zans has seen it plenty of times before.) He recovered quickly and didn't try to run off, so I was pleased.

The third time he spooked was also Zans's fault. We crossed the road that goes through the park, and just after we'd gotten into the grass, a couple of cyclists passed us on the road. We'd already seen several cyclists, but this time, for some reason, Zans decided to spook. I didn't see what he did, but I think he might have bucked. Whatever it was, it sent Panama into a momentary panic: He spooked sideways and then lurched forward for a stride or two before I could pull him back down.

And that was it. Oh, Panama was alert and excited — I could feel how tense he was through the saddle the entire time. I knew it was excitement and not fear or nervousness, but it still makes me nervous to feel his tension, so I was having to remind myself to breathe, sit back, etc. It didn't make for the most enjoyable ride, but we survived it and I am proud! I'm sure the next time will be easier.


Horsey Headlines for March 17, 2010

It's been a while since my last post on horse-related news, but this article was just too good to pass up.

Have you ever wondered how well your horse remembers things, or how well he understands what you say? Turns out horses are better at both than the conventional thinking allows:

Horses never forget human friends:
Research also shows horses understand words better than expected

For some of you, this will come as no surprise. For instance, back when we had first rescued Panama, he was staying on my in-laws' pasture in another state. I saw him a few times a year when we came for visits, but I got the feeling he remembered me because of the way his trust carried over from one visit to the next. (Keep in mind he was practically wild back then, with little or no handling by humans in his short life.)

I also am pretty sure he understands quite a bit. For instance, a new trick of his is to start trotting when he hears my trainer tell me to pick up a trot. The amazing thing is not that he has learned that a specific action follows her words, but that he has learned to tell those words apart from all the other things she tells me during a lesson. (Keep in mind that she's talking to me, not him, so she is speaking in a normal voice, with no special inflection such as with the sing-song trrr-OT we use as a lunging command. He's picking the words out of normal speech patterns, which is thought to be harder for animals to differentiate.)

In what ways does your horse's memory or understanding surprise or impress you?


Sunday, March 14, 2010

I don't get it

Why would you choose this

horseback riding exercise machine

over this?

horseback riding


Saturday, March 13, 2010


Not long ago, I wrote about how I wasn't able to canter on Panama because he was acting so — well — green. I'm happy to report though that yesterday's lesson turned CAN'T-ering into CAN-tering.

Initially I was thinking that Panama was going to be a real pill to ride. He was acting antsy in the cross ties, and when he pooped, his manure was pretty loose — nervous manure. Uh-oh, I thought.

But under saddle he turned out to be fine. Better than fine. We rode indoors, and as we've been doing lately, I got a nice walk and trot out of him almost right away. My trainer had me practice trotting a lot, alternating between posting and doing my two-point.

Then she announced that she wanted me to canter in a few minutes. Predictably, I started to get a bit nervous, but she said that since he and I were both very controlled, she wanted to take advantage of our good day.

I was nervous, but when it came time I "just did it" — something I wouldn't have been able to do 9 months ago, I can tell you that. And she was right! Panama was a little hesitant at first, not really believing we were actually going to canter, but the result was a nice, slow, controlled canter. My trainer counted out three strides and asked me to bring him down, and I thought, Already? I would have been happy to keep going.

We took a walk break, and that's when the adrenaline started to kick in. I was trembling ever so slightly and feeling quite giddy. We walked and trotted a bit more, so that he'd stop anticipating the canter so much, and then we cantered again.

This time the canter wasn't quite so good. He was a bit more forward — he was still anticipating it, obviously — and I felt my two-point falter a bit. It took a stride to get back to where I was supposed to be. Once I was balanced, my trainer counted out three strides, and had me pull him up again.

Although it was a short lesson by about ten minutes, cantering twice really wore me out. Luckily, my trainer said she was happy to stop on that note. She had me trot him around a little more, and we worked on keeping him from spooking by the gate (he tends to cat-jump sideways when he suddenly sees down the hall that leads to the indoor barn, particularly when there's a lot going on there).

I'm so happy to be able to canter on my own horse after all, and not have to learn it on someone else's! And of course I'm so proud of Panama for being good for me, despite the fact that he's still a little bit green at the canter! Hopefully we'll be able to have many more lessons like this, so that soon I can start cantering on my own — without my trainer present!


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Feeling needy

I've been very busy for the last few days (particularly after the Amazon fiasco broke on Monday), so I haven't had a chance to ride Panama since his gelding friend died Saturday evening. I've been out there several times to blanket and unblanket, though, and each time Panama acts like he wants me to stay longer — and Breezy (the mare) whinnies repeatedly to Panama every time I take him from the corral, leaving her alone.

As a result of being upset and not having been ridden since Friday, I was expecting Panama to be a bit of a handful today. Quite the opposite turned out to be true. When I turned him out he didn't want to run, but wanted to stand with me instead, and he kept biting at my clothes periodically — he'd bite down and tug a little, so I think he was feeling needy and wanted attention.

He was also fairly subdued when we rode. We rode inside, partly because I didn't feel like getting a runny nose from the wind and partly because I didn't want him to be distracted by Breezy's whinnies. He had a nice walk with a relaxed headset, and when we trotted he gave me a nice slow trot right off the bat. My trainer set up ground poles for us and we got a pretty good ride in — I felt deliciously sore afterward, and he seemed to be in a good mood. Who knows, maybe exercise is good for a horse's mood, just like it is good for a person's!


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Life and death

Today when I got out to the barn, I immediately realized that the old gelding was missing from Panama's corral. I think I knew immediately what had happened, especially when I realized the fur on Panama's chest and neck was stiff and spiky — like he'd gotten ridiculously sweaty and then dried.

I asked, and it turned out that the old gelding colicked, twisted a gut, and had to be euthanized last night. As soon as I was told that, I remembered KZ lying down yesterday afternoon when I stopped in to take Panama's sheet off. I mentioned it to the barn owner, and she immediately said to say something next time, because if someone had caught it sooner he might have made it.

So now I feel terrible, even though I know that 1) I was only there for about 5 minutes, and there were tons of people out there yesterday who were out there longer than I was and would have had more of a chance than I did to notice; and 2) it's not like he was acting like he was colicking. He rolled a little bit and then laid there, as if sunbathing. That's what I thought he was doing, and I had no reason to think otherwise.

It makes me feel even worse that Panama and the mare are both really upset. He had gotten sweaty because the mare's trainer took her out of the corral this morning to groom her, and Panama lost his marbles — ran himself into a froth and called for her over and over again. I got a similar response from her when I took Panama out of the corral this afternoon to turn him out in the arena. Both horses are so upset by the loss of KZ that, while they were never friends before, now they are concerned about being separated.

I've been told I shouldn't feel responsible, and I know that's probably true, but I also know that I will never again pass a horse that is lying down without checking them. I usually do check them, that's the worst part, but yesterday I was in too big of a hurry to pay much attention. I literally was only there long enough to remove Panama's sheet.

In honor of KZ, here are a few pictures. This one was taken way back in early December, when we were having some nasty cold weather. KZ is the one in the middle.

Panama, KZ, and Breezy

This picture was taken just under a week ago, after Panama's bath. Panama and KZ were pretty good buddies, and usually ate together. In fact, not long ago I saw Panama instigating a game of bitey face with KZ, so I know they were friends.

KZ and Panama

Rest in peace, KZ, and I'm sorry.


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Clippers, whiskers, and ears... oh my!

Panama (and all the other horses at the barn) started shedding weeks ago. Probably since he has a thinner coat than most of the horses, Panama isn't shedding as badly, but I may still have to consider blanketing him a bit more liberally in March and April. Denver gets a lot of heavy snow in the spring, but enough warm weather between snowstorms that the horses aren't really prepared for the cold and the wet.

When I took these pictures earlier this winter, though, I was thinking a lot about winter coats, whiskers, and fuzzy ears. My trainer comments periodically that I need to trim Panama's whiskers. Once I did take her advice, but since then I've decided I prefer him all-natural.

Horse in a blanket

I changed my mind because I read that horses use their whiskers to feel when things are close to their mouth. That made sense. And of course you'd never cut a cat's whiskers, so why do that to a horse?

Horse whiskers in the winter

I've also been advised to fold his ears and cut the longest hairs. Again, I did once or twice, but I've since decided not to do that anymore, either.

Fuzzy horse ears in the winter

I do trim a rather sloppy bridle path with the scissors, but otherwise I don't pull or trim his mane...

Bridle path

...or his tail. In fact, I want that tail to grow, grow, grow, and often braid it in the winter to try to help it grow out!

Horse tail

Nor do I clip his body hair. My trainer would do it if I wanted, but I don't. I don't like the way it looks, for one thing, and I don't mind sticking around to until he dries after a ride, which has only been necessary a few times this winter.

What about you? What do you trim on your horse, and what do you prefer to leave natural?


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Boy Meets Girl

Panama had a playdate with his friend Voodoo yesterday. They had tons of fun running together — until Lady joined them! Then Panama was all business, making sure Voodoo knew his place — which was, of course, as far away from Lady as possible.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Being watched

Panama was being a bit impatient in the cross ties today, and that made me curious about how he does when I'm not around. As you can see, it's quite a different story! Even though he watches for me the entire time, he does stand pretty quietly. He didn't appreciate the chicken's input, though!

I love how he always nickers or whinnies to me when I come back!


Horse intelligence

I just thought I would share this interesting article with my readers: Understanding Horse Intelligence. It's a few years old, but it's a great article.

For most of us who work with horses, none of this will come as a surprise. We all know that horses think and learn. It still surprises me, though, that some people believe horses have no cognitive abilities, that all they are capable of is instinct and conditioned responses. Like I said, anyone who has spent time with horses — and truly paid attention — knows that is not true!

Another part of the article that I found interesting is where it debunks the myth that horses "can't transfer information from one eye to the other." Research actually indicates otherwise. Most likely horses are just startled when an object looks different from another angle. We all know that they are easily startled by anything looking different, even something so simple as a trash can being in a different place, so this explanation actually makes perfect sense.

I personally think horses are incredibly smart creatures. They learn incredibly quickly, if you think about it; they are able to learn and respond to our language and our commands; and they can even learn to overcome some pretty powerful instincts that hundreds of years of evolution has instilled in them. Moreover, I've seen plenty that indicates they have a sense of self — they can imagine what they look like to someone else — which is generally considered to be a pretty advanced cognitive skill!


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Discipline and impatience

I've had discipline on my mind a lot lately. Last week, my trainer wanted me to get Panama in trouble for spooking at something, whereas my approach has been not to get mad at him, but to tell him "Quit" or "No" in a calm voice, circle back, and ride him right by the same spot where he goosed. Maybe my approach doesn't get the fastest results, but I believe it works, and I think Panama has been quicker to calm down in the indoor arena since I started taking this approach.

Then today, we had a repeat of this incident. Panama wasn't focusing, my trainer got impatient and frustrated, and everything got worse from there. Interestingly, when I left the arena midway through the session to talk to another boarder, Panama completely lost whatever focus he'd had, and my trainer had to give up on the arena entirely. She took him back to the obstacle course behind the arena to give him something else to think about until I came back.

When I returned, she asked if I wanted to get on. "I need to get off," she said. "Sure," I said.

As I was getting ready to mount, I said, "I've been really agonizing over how to say this, but... I think that Panama responds really poorly to impatience."

To my surprise, my trainer agreed, and said she knew he and she had probably been feeding off of one another's frustration. I mentioned that I've been trying to respond to things without getting mad at him, and said that he'd calmed down pretty quickly yesterday when I rode him, even after the excitement of his first experience with a hair dryer.

She had to leave, but asked me to do some walking and trotting so that the ride would end on a more positive note. He was still pretty revved up, and was further distracted by a new horse that was trailered in as we worked, but he did calm down enough to give me what I wanted: a consistent pace at the trot in both directions before we quit for the day.

It has occurred to me that my trainer and I have different expectations of Panama. I don't mind if he spooks occasionally, but I do expect him to recover from it pretty quickly, if not immediately — which he generally does. I also don't mind if he is nervous or distracted at the beginning of a ride — I expect him to listen to my voice (I talk to him a lot) and settle into our ride, and he always does, although it varies a bit how long that takes.

My trainer, on the other hand, seems to expect him not to have any of those problems to begin with. I'm not sure how realistic that is, especially at only four and a half years old, but I'm hopeful that she'll keep her impatience more in check now that I've mentioned it.


Monday, March 1, 2010

A winter bath

It all started because I left Panama's blanket on too long. I didn't go to the barn right away this morning because the forecast had called for snow today. By the time I figured out they were wrong — AGAIN — it was in the high 30s. Panama wasn't sweating or anything, but he was warm enough that his first order of business was this:

That was actually the second time he rolled. He was pretty clean when I first took off the blanket. By the time he was done rolling, he was caked with arena sand soup.

My dirty horse after rolling in the mud

The startlingly white spots, such as behind his elbow, in the curve behind his withers, and here next to his tail, amuse me!

My dirty horse after rolling in the mud

I was planning to ride, but obviously I couldn't put a saddle on over all that sand, and toweling it off wasn't working. So rather than waiting for it to dry so I could curry it off, I had the bright idea of rinsing him off in the indoor wash rack.

It is much warmer inside on cold days, so it was probably 50 degrees inside. I rinsed his legs first, then his butt. I squeegeed his butt off and laid a towel over it to keep him from getting chilled while I rinsed his back, belly, and shoulders. I avoided getting his chest and neck wet — his chest because it wasn't dirty, and his neck because I thought it would make him too cold.

The bath part was really nice. I made the water warm, and Panama seemed happy enough. It was quiet in the barn, so it felt like a private moment for just the two of us. Then I toweled him off and put his cooler on him.

Although Panama never started shivering, I was really concerned about him getting chilled. We walked around inside for a while, until the boarder (who helps out around the barn) came back to groom the arena. Panama still was pretty wet, and I was afraid he would get chilled outside in just his cooler, so I took him to the cross ties and threw his winter blanket on while I hunted down a hair dryer.

Now, Panama has never seen a hair dryer before, so once I found one I knew I needed to introduce it slowly. I let Panama sniff it, then plugged it in and held it in front of him so that he could check it out while it was making noise. He was only mildly concerned (he snorted at it once). I then started waving it around a bit so that he could feel the air coming from it.

No biggie. I was shocked. I even waved it at his face so that it blew his forelock straight up in the air, and he just looked at me. Of course, I was having lots of fun and laughing at him the whole time, so he probably thought it was just another occasion of Mommy Acting Crazy.

He did seem to really like it when I put the nozzle of the hair dryer under the shoulder of his cooler and filled it with hot air. He actually dropped his head and let his eyelids droop, as if he were sunbathing.

What he didn't like was the hair dryer further back down his back and sides, especially his loins, where he happens to be very ticklish. Unfortunately, I didn't locate an extension cord, so he quickly figured out he could step out of the hair dryer's reach when I tried blow drying the ticklish parts. He wasn't terribly anxious, just letting me know he didn't like that very much.

When he was almost dry, I gave up on trying to blow dry his back end, and decided to ride him lightly indoors until he dried the rest of the way. I saddled him and took him into the arena. At first he was jumping at every little thing, I guess because he had had such a big day, but he settled down after a little bit. We mainly walked, but it was a decent ride, and I think having a job helped him to calm down and process everything.

By the end of our ride, Panama was dry. Even though I didn't use any shampoo, he looked pretty clean — he is whiter than he's been in months! It turns out a winter bath is really a hassle, though, and not something I will repeat unless I have a hair dryer and a LOT of time to get him dry afterward!

Clean horse after a winter bath