Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Another long trail ride

I'm really loving these long trail rides. I finally got a couple of pictures to show you a little of the landscape in the park. In this picture, you can see the parking lot on the left, and in the middle — almost hidden by the tall grass on the hill — the public riding arena. The riding stables that takes trail rides out into the park is slightly behind and to the right of us.

The park where my horse and I go on trail rides

Today we turned right at the riding arena, crossed the road, and went down by the creek on the south side of the park (as opposed to Monday, when we crossed the creek to the north of the barn). We followed the creek to the west (toward the barn), crossed, and headed east across the open fields. Panama and I took this path on one of our first long trail rides.

The park where my horse and I go for trail rides

Here you can see the rolling field, which is covered in goldenrod right now, the reservoir on the left, and Mt. Carbon on the right. Why they call it "mount" anything I don't know, because it's really just a big hill.

We followed this trail through the prairie dog village, just like before. The prairie dogs are so cute, but on the other side of the village we spotted three coyote pups. For a moment they peeped over the hill at us, a cluster of three fuzzy heads with big, inquisitive ears, and then they ducked out of sight. I feel bad for the prairie dogs that surely keep those pups alive, but I guess if I were a mama coyote, I'd have my babies right next to the Country Buffet, too.

Panama didn't act silly about the coyotes, though he did perk up and look at the hill for a long time after they had gone. One of our trail buddies commented that they probably look just like dogs, but I would think they'd smell differently. In any case, I'm glad Panama didn't mind them.

When our trail intersected with another near the base of Mt. Carbon, we turned and went back down to the creek, where we rode in the shade of the cottonwoods for a while. We moved off the trail to let a guided trail ride from the riding stables go by, and then continued on. We passed a pond with ducks in it, which scared Zans by swimming toward us and quacking — Panama was very alert but couldn't seem to figure out where the quacking was coming from. And he scared the crap out of me by almost stepping right off a little bridge (no hand rails) into the ditch below. I think I screamed a little, and he — bless his heart — stopped walking and waited for me to tell him where to go.

We crossed the creek at the same place we'd crossed earlier, and took a short cut home across the field. Instead of riding along the bike path, as I've done before on that short cut, our lead rider got on the road through the campgrounds. Unfortunately a garbage truck was in the campgrounds, and Panama was a bit nervous about that, so we got off the road again until he passed. I thought it was an odd choice to ride on the road when the garbage truck was tooling around, but I guess her horse isn't worried about garbage trucks. Panama, however, still is.

Our trail ride took a total of about two hours, and I think on the whole we did less grazing than usual (which was nice). When we got back, the horses were all tired, though I think Panama was less so than the others, being the young'un of the group. Still, he was tired enough that he didn't put up much of a fuss when the farrier came and trimmed his feet right after the ride!

I didn't leave the barn for a couple more hours. I had brought my lunch, so I sat with another boarder at one of the picnic tables at the barn and ate together, and then my trainer showed up to work with another horse, so I watched them for a bit. While I was sitting in the shade, this cute little fella came over and made himself comfortable in my lap, wet feet and tummy and all:

Border Collie puppy at my barn

Max is the barn owner's new dog, and seems to be suffering from the misguided notion that wet, half-grown Border Collie puppies are lap dogs. I let him continue to think so, but only because he is the sweetest, goofiest troublemaker I've ever seen.

Anyway, by the time I finally left, I'd been there for over five hours. I am, I'm afraid, quite burned, plus I'm probably dehydrated and exhausted from being out in the heat all that time. I'm going to have to start taking more than one water bottle to the barn...


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Longer trail rides, and some discontent

Trail ride with my horse

We've been going for longer and longer trail rides. Plus, I've been riding in the arena before and/or after each ride, so most of the time I'm on Panama's back for two hours or more. I love the trail rides, and it's so nice to be going out for more than an hour at a time.

Yesterday we did last Wednesday's new trail, except backwards at the end of our normal loop, making it into an hour and a half long ride. We did the stream crossing and the ditch, but we crossed the stream again further down instead of crossing on the car bridge (which none of us — or our horses — had really felt comfortable doing last time). Panama jumped the ditch again — this time I was trying to be ready, but I was just getting into my two-point when he jumped, and I didn't have my hands far enough forward yet. I think I pulled on his face a little, which I felt badly about, and I lost my stirrups when he landed. Next time I'll be ready!

Trail ride with my horse

These pictures were taken somewhere along the creek, before we crossed back over to head home. We saw this beautiful patch of sweet peas, and when I mentioned that I was going to get a picture of it since I had my iPhone, one of the other riders offered to get a picture of us in the sweet peas. Panama was more interested in eating them than getting his picture taken in them, but I think the pictures turned out nicely for iPhone pictures, don't you?

Despite how much I have been enjoying my rides, I have felt a ribbon of discontent threading through the most recent ones. Although I love going out with my Monday-Wednesday trail riding buddies, I get so annoyed with the grazing — as I've said before, I don't mind letting Panama get a few bites to eat here and there, but letting them stand and graze for 5 minutes at a time seems excessive to me, especially when you're planning on doing it again in 5 minutes. Panama is good about not getting too pushy and giving his head back when it's time, but I want to spend my time riding! Some days, though, I just don't have any other choices if I want to go out on the trail.

I've also felt some frustration with people giving me excessive advice or feeling like they are not listening. For instance, the owner of the mare that just came to Panama's corral from a stall-and-run setup was out there on Friday with her farrier. When I arrived, she started dropping not-so-subtle hints about me using her farrier. I know Panama's feet are chipping a bit, and what she didn't know (or bother asking about) is that my farrier is coming out tomorrow. From the way she and her farrier were both pushing it, I suspect she'd probably shown him my horse's feet. Does that sound paranoid?

To be polite and get some information, I asked her farrier a few questions, but quickly decided I wouldn't use him — he came across as too pushy at first, too salesman-like, and then suddenly segwayed into a bunch of stories that had nothing to do with horses or, more importantly, my horse. He talked nonstop (I couldn't even tell when he breathed) and I had to interrupt to say I needed to get ready for my lesson.

My lesson didn't go much better. Although there were only three riders in the indoor arena, it seemed more crowded than that, since there was one another lesson going on and everyone was doing something completely different than everyone else. Furthermore, I felt like I couldn't get anything right: I didn't talk loud enough when communicating to other riders in the arena, and I couldn't get my butt to stop audibly hitting the saddle with every stride at the canter. My trainer worked me harder than usual and seemed frustrated with me, too. I don't know what I was doing wrong... Everything, I suppose.

With all of these annoyances and frustrations rattling around in my brain, I've decided to give Panama (and myself) the day off, and stay home to get some work done. I'll also post the installment about our Mesa Verde vacation later today — sorry for skipping a day!


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Mesa Verde road trip, Day 2: Balcony House

After touring Cliff Palace, we headed over to meet up with the Balcony House tour guide. The guide at Cliff Palace was an archaeologist and had a lot of interesting stuff to tell us, but this time the guide was a retired older man — nice, but not as knowledgeable, although I do have a lot of respect for him doing such a challenging job in his retirement!

Balcony House had me a little nervous because it's on the cliff face. I am a little afraid of heights, but I assumed I'd be okay... until the guy who sold us our tickets made a big deal about it (after we'd bought the tickets, of course). To get into Balcony House, you walk down stairs and follow a path that leads you underneath the cliff dwelling, then climb a 32-foot ladder to get to the cave. Would the ladder be as scary as it sounded?

Balcony House at Mesa Verde

Oh yes, it was.

Balcony House at Mesa  Verde

I just looked straight ahead at the rungs and concentrated on gripping each one as tightly as I could. The ladders at Cliff Palace were less than half the height, and sure enough, when I got about halfway up is when I started really getting nervous. I started doubting my grip on the rungs, and there was a fleeting moment when I considered stopping and screaming for help until someone came and got me! But I decided staying there would probably be even scarier, and concentrated on reaching for the next rung... and the next... and the next, until I was at the top.

My knees were shaking by the time I reached the top, and it took about 10 minutes for that to stop, but it was worth it! Balcony House was fascinating. This is the reason for its name:

Balcony House at Mesa  Verde

They don't know what these balconies were for, but since the rooms behind them were for food storage, most likely they were for laying food out to dry. They also could have been for traveling from one upper-story room to another, but if you look below you can see a row of holes for another, lower balcony, so that doesn't seem as likely.

Oh, and can we say "original timbers"? The wood holding up that balcony is over 700 years old!

Balcony House at Mesa  Verde

I know it looks like all those little square openings are windows, but they are in fact doors — that's how the people got in and out of each room. They were small-ish — men were on average about 5'4" (my height), and women about 5 foot — but they still would have had to crawl in and out! I wonder what they did when coming out of a second- or third-story room — face plant? Because that's what I would do...

Balcony House at Mesa  Verde

The wall I am standing by separates one side of the cliff dwelling from the other. No, we didn't crawl through the hole — ha — instead, we went around through the back of the cave, where the little spring that probably encouraged these people to build in that cave is still flowing, 700 years later!

Balcony House at Mesa  Verde

The architecture of these buildings is simply amazing. They made use of all available space in the caves, and they had a sense of style too, judging by the towers and such. This tunnel is how you get out of balcony house — for some reason they bricked up most of the opening between the rocks, so that people would have to stoop or crawl to get in and out. The tunnel is about 12 feet long, but it does open up in the middle, enough that I could stand up. Why they did that we don't know; perhaps it was for privacy or defense, although it seems to me that where this dwelling was located, they already had plenty of both!

Balcony House at Mesa  Verde

After we crawled through the tunnel, I had to conquer my fear of heights yet again:

Balcony House at Mesa  Verde

That ladder is about 15 feet tall. The picture doesn't show it, since I was one of the first up it and no one was on the cliff face for you to see where the path goes, but after climbing the ladder you have to snake to the right, and then back to the left, following that fence length of chain held tenuously to the rock face with posts. You walk on the original toeholds carved into the rock more than 700 years ago — basically just small, shallow depressions for your feet. And you are totally exposed on the cliff face.

I crawled. After I discovered how insecure hanging onto a chain feels when you are clinging to the side of a cliff, I only hung onto the posts, going from post to post like an orangutan. In fact, I thought that's how everyone did it, until discussing it with my husband later — evidently he stood up and walked the whole way, looking around, while I was too scared to even look down!

And that wasn't all, either — I still had another 15-foot ladder to climb at the end of all that!

Balcony House at Mesa  Verde

I survived it, though, and was pretty proud of myself for (more or less) overcoming my fears. The last picture was taken from the top, after we had climbed out, so I thought it was good to post as a victory picture! The view from inside the cave dwellings was similar, and though I didn't get too close to the edge to check it out, I can only imagine what it was like to live there with that view always in front of you!

In any case, I'm sure no one was afraid of heights!


Saturday, June 26, 2010

Mesa Verde road trip, Day 2: Cliff Palace

I am splitting Day 2 of our trip to Mesa Verde into two posts. I just have too many pictures I want to share, and to put them all into one post seems like a waste!

Our first morning in Durango, after having breakfast at the hotel, we headed up to Mesa Verde. I think it was probably about 45 minutes from our hotel to the park gates, and another 15 or 20 minutes to the visitor's center.

After some discussion, we decided to try to do two guided tours our first afternoon, to make the most of our time there (we were planning on coming back the next day). Cliff Palace was my first choice, and the guy who sold us our tickets suggested a tour of Balcony House, which was close by, as our second tour. After he sold us our tickets he asked if we were afraid of heights, since Balcony House is on the cliff face, but I already knew that from the guide we were given at the park gates. I told him, "A little, but I'll be fine," and he gave me that Uh oh look.

Once we started the tour of Cliff Palace, I remembered it from our visit when I was a kid, specifically the very narrow stone staircase that winds down the side of the canyon, heading away from Cliff Palace. Then you follow a path back toward the cliff dwelling, climb a 12-foot-long wooden ladder, and rest while your guide tells you a little bit about the place. This is also a great place for pictures.

Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde

Cliff Palace at Mesa  Verde

Cliff Palace at Mesa  Verde

When I was a kid they thought Cliff Palace had 200 or 300 rooms, and was like the New York City of Mesa Verde. Now, however, they think differently. After getting a grant to do a detailed study of the dwellings, they realized that Cliff Palace only had about 150 rooms, and only about 25 of those show evidence of being lived in (i.e., smoke stains from cooking fires). The others were apparently storage rooms.

The other interesting thing about Cliff Palace is that there are 23 kivas, which were like gathering places for religious ceremonies and other events, although people apparently could and did sleep in them. Most of the other cliff dwellings have only a few kivas. So now they think that Cliff Palace was probably a gathering place, like a city hall, where only about 100 people lived, but where people would come from other dwellings all over the canyon when something important was going on.

Here are a couple of pictures of one of the kivas:

A kiva inside Cliff Palace at Mesa  Verde

The tall pillars were for holding up the roof, which was quite thick, as you can see. The roof was thick enough to support people going about their daily business right on top of it, and the kiva was entered and exited via a ladder that stuck through a hole in the center of the roof, just above the fire pit — the same hole that was used to vent the smoke.

A kiva inside Cliff Palace at Mesa  Verde

In the far upper left of this picture is the guide, and if you look closely you will see she is straddling a small square hole. This was a ventilation shaft — it opens into the kiva behind that low brick wall. The wall was there to push the air current to either side, so that fresh air would circle around the bottom of the kiva, providing oxygen to both the fire and the people inside.

Our guide was an archaeologist, so we got some really interesting information. For instance, there is a sort of balcony inside the cave with lots of rooms on top, and the way the buildings are designed, those rooms were only accessible via a tall tower at the left end (not in the picture). about 8 years ago they finally went up inside there, and discovered tons of stored food, still there after 700 years! So those rooms were used to store their crops, and it was the job of whomever lived in the tower to distribute food as needed. As our guide put it, it was a responsibility, not a power, and if the person couldn't handle it the people would find someone else who could.

At the end of the tour was the part I had been a little nervous about: There was a 100-foot climb to get out of there, via a series of 5 ladders. I looked straight ahead and took it one rung at a time, and I made it all right. But next would be Balcony Palace, which you entered by climbing a 32-foot ladder — and exited via a 60-foot climb up the cliff face. Would I be able to do it?

You'll have to wait until tomorrow to find out!


Friday, June 25, 2010

Mesa Verde road trip, Day 1: Drive to Durango

On Wednesday — more than two weeks ago now, oh my! — we left for Durango. Michael had decided we should stay there and make the drive back and forth to Mesa Verde every day. It was about an hour from the hotel to the ruins (which are some ways from the park gates), so I was skeptical at first, but it turned out to be the right decision.

We decided to take 285 through the mountains, instead of taking I-25 south and then heading west across the bottom of the state, which is flatter. It was the right choice — the scenery was simply gorgeous. I usually read or work in the car on road trips, but on this trip I was taking pictures and enjoying the view.

Me on a road trip to Mesa Verde

Some of these are iPhone pictures, so you'll have to excuse the poor quality — most of the time it was just easier to whip out the iPhone than to get out either the digital camera or the DSR. This next one shows the beautiful scenery from one of the scenic overlooks on Wolf Creek Pass — the photos we took with the "real" cameras didn't turn out quite as good, at least in my opinion.

Wolf Creek Pass in the San Juan Mountains in Colorado

(I had a lot of fun facebooking and emailing these photos from my new iPhone. Setting it up before we left on the trip was one of the best things I ever did!)

I'd been to Durango once before, with an ex-boyfriend in college, but I didn't remember going into town at all. Main Avenue is lovely:

Main Avenue in Durango, Colorado

We stayed in an old hotel on Main called the Strater. It was built in the late 19th century, and restored in the 80s or 90s with custom Victorian-inspired woodwork and wallpaper, and real Eastlake antiques. My husband knows me so well! I was in heaven!

Our room had a sitting area...

Strater Hotel in Durango, Colorado

A gorgeous Eastlake dresser...

Strater Hotel in Durango, Colorado

And two beds, a queen and a twin (the latter matched the dresser).

Strater Hotel in Durango, Colorado

The wallpaper was gorgeous! The paper is fish scales in pastel colors, outlined in gold to make them shimmer, and the 18-inch-tall border is intertwined cattails and irises. It was custom made for the hotel when they renovated it, and very period!

Strater Hotel in Durango, Colorado

The hotel also had a gorgeous lobby, a saloon attached to it with authentic saloon piano music, and two restaurants attached to it, all done in Victorian style. I was somewhat disappointed to learn the woodwork and moldings weren't original, but impressed that I couldn't tell the difference. The Victorian-style tiled and mirrored jacuzzi room was also amazing.

We spent three nights in this hotel, and I loved every minute of it. Like I said, my husband knows me so well!

Stay tuned... Tomorrow I'm taking you to Mesa Verde!


Thursday, June 24, 2010

A little excitement on the trail

Today Lady and her owner went out on the trail with me and Panama. It was the first time we'd been out just the two of us, and I could see from the beginning that Lady was feeling crabby — she kept reaching over to nip at Panama as we were leaving the barn. Maybe she's jealous about him and Daisy.

Anyway, we decided to head down by the creek, where I've been with Mozart's owner and a few of the other ladies, but Linda hadn't been down there before. Unfortunately I had only had a vague idea of where I was going, so I felt a bit lost, though we didn't make any bad turns.

The horses both got a little jumpy here and there. Lady put Linda through what she calls "a rodeo" a few times: Once she farted and bucked, I think because of the mosquitoes (Panama flipped out about them a few moments later), and another time she spooked and reared because Panama crow-hopped a little when a bicycle came up unexpectedly (which I thought was strange because he usually doesn't care too much about the bikes).

We also saw quite a few groups of horses — two separate groups from the riding stables in the park, and a few people out riding their own horses. I think that had them a bit worked up too.

Anyway, it was sure a more exciting ride than usual, but it was still a good one! We rode a little bit in the outdoor arena when we got back, long enough for me to canter Panama once in each direction, but it was getting quite hot by then so I called it quits. After a cool, wet sponge for Panama's saddle area (he was pretty sweaty) and some hand grazing (I hadn't let him eat on the trail today), I went on home!


Mesa Verde road trip: Highlights

I've promised a post on our vacation, but there has been so much else to blog about it that I just haven't gotten to it. It's not because the trip wasn't great, though — in fact, it was downright incredible. I've just been too busy catching up from it to dwell much on the experience.

We were gone for 5 days. The first day we drove to Durango, where we stayed the next three nights. We visited Mesa Verde on days 2 and 3. On day 4, we drove partway home and spent the night in Aspen, with a slight detour to visit the Black Canyon on our way. On day 5 we briefly visited Maroon Bells, but it was too cold to hike, so we drove home.

There is too much to fit into one post without depriving you of all the best parts and pictures, so I'll use this post as an introduction and include links to each post as I publish them. I'll publish a vacation post each morning, and publish the day's normal post later in the day. Stay tuned for lots of bloggery on Pony Tales Blog!

Day 1: Drive to Durango
Day 2a: Mesa Verde - Cliff Palace
Day 2b: Mesa Verde - Balcony House
Day 3a: Mesa Verde - Wild horses
Day 3b: Mesa Verde - Petroglyph Point and Spruce Tree House
Day 3c: Mesa Verde - Square Tower House and others
Day 4a: Million Dollar Highway and Ouray
Day 4b: Black Canyon
Day 5: Aspen, Maroon Bells, and drive home


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A new trail

Trail ride with my horse

This morning we had a pretty big group for a trail ride. We tried to get going a little earlier, but ended up waiting for one of the teenagers who went last time (the girl who was texting). We all rode a bit in the arena to warm up, and I practiced my cantering. It comes so easily now! We still have things to work on, but it's like my brain is able to think at that speed now, whereas before it felt mind-numbing — simply staying on took all of my focus.

We started out our trail ride with six people, but before we had gone very far, we lost the lady whose second time on the trail was Monday: Her horse bucked, and although she did ride a little bit farther at our urging (so as not to reward him by going immediately home), she was still pretty nervous and had us take her back to the barn.

When we left the second time, we took a different route — straight out along the power lines, across the road, and down the hill to the creek. All five of us who remained were okay with water crossings and some other stimuli, so we took a new trail that would take us across the creek. We had to walk along a road for a short distance, and there was a lot of activity here because it was right next to a picnic spot. Panama was on edge, but when we all made it to the other side safe and sound, they all said their horses were anxious too, even those with a lot of trail experience. For some reason that made me feel better.

Panama was very alert and seemed to enjoy the new trail. At one point the trail split, with a ditch crossing on one hand and a bridge on the other. The bridge was short but somewhat narrow, with no handrails and tall grass on either side, so I was afraid Panama would step off the bridge and hurt himself. Luckily the lead rider felt the same way, so three of us crossed the ditch while the other two took the bridge.

I think Panama would have crossed the ditch without any problems if we had been first, as we have crossed ditches before with no problems, but the lead horse jumped it. Panama stepped down into the ditch and put his head down to sniff the trickle of water, so I let him have the reins. No sooner had I loosened them, however, he decided the lead horse was right, and jumped it too! I wasn't ready for it at all, as he was acting like he would walk through it, so I think I was a bit behind him for that jump. At least I didn't hang on his face, though, since I'd let the reins out to allow him to check things out.

The water crossing went fairly smoothly as well. It was a wide section of the creek, and the water was moving fairly quickly, but the banks weren't steep and the water was only about elbow-high on Panama. Unfortunately, I realized as we were about halfway across that the footing was treacherous — the creek bed was very rocky, which made it slippery and uneven. Panama seemed a bit surprised by this, so I don't think he has encountered such rocky footing before, but he slowed down and did a good job of picking his way across the creek.

After the water crossing, we went up the hill, rejoined our usual trail, and went home along the power lines. All in all, I spent probably two hours in the saddle, and loved every minute of it! After Monday's trail ride, too, I found that I wanted to ride for longer — I probably could have spent the entire day in the saddle, as long as I still had trail to explore and a buddy to ride with. I am going to have to start encouraging the other women to go on longer rides — those hour-long rides are fun, but as my riding improves, I'm finding that they feel too short.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bath time: Favorite horse grooming products

I was so pleased with how sleek and shiny Panama looked for the horse show last weekend. I gave him a bath the night before and put his rain sheet on him to keep him clean overnight. (It was late when I bathed him and early when I left, so he wouldn't have been too warm in the sheet.)

I love giving my horse a bath, especially now that I have access to a nice indoor wash rack with hot water. I'm always on the lookout for new products to use in the bath, but here are a few of my favorites:

My jelly scrubber is very similar to these, but I can't tell whether it is the same exact one. In any case, it has tiny, soft fingers on one side, and larger, harder nubs on the other side. It's great as a curry, but also as a bath time scrubber. It works best if you have another way of applying the shampoo — for instance, if you mix a tiny bit of shampoo and lots of warm water in an empty, clean dish soap bottle, and use the squirt top to apply the liquid. Don't put the shampoo directly on the jelly scrubber — you'll use far too much shampoo that way!

I also love my sponge brush. Although I think you are supposed to used it like a normal brush to remove sweat while brushing your horse, I actually love to use it as a bath time scrubber. I put shampoo in a bucket and fill it with warm water, then use the brush just like a normal sponge. The scrubbing action of the bristles gets my horse cleaner than a sponge alone, especially on sensitive but dirty areas such as lower legs.

I can't seem to find a link for it anywhere, but I also love to use my Epona Shed Flower at bath time. Especially in the spring when he is still shedding out, the shedding flower does a great job of removing all the loose hair and the dirt that has gotten trapped in his fuzzy winter coat.

I used to use Mane 'n' Tail shampoo and leave-in conditioner, but I switched to Cowboy Magic a little while back for one major reason: They don't test on animals! I try to buy cruelty-free products for myself, and I figured if Panama knew what it was all about, he would probably prefer them, too. Plus, I love the way Cowboy Magic smells — none of that artificial salon smell that doesn't make sense on a horse, anyway!

After shampooing and rinsing, I use Cowboy Magic's leave-in Detangler & Shine in Panama's mane and tail. I use this instead of the conditioner, even though this stuff is much more expensive. Trust me — IT'S WORTH IT. It may be expensive, but you don't need much to get results, and it will make your horse's mane and tail silky and knot-free for at least a week!

What are your favorite products to use at bath time?


Monday, June 21, 2010

More horse show pictures

To my surprise and delight, I discovered that I only had about half the pictures my husband took of me and Panama at the show. Some of these are overexposed, since the camera was on the wrong setting, but I'm glad to have them nevertheless.

My horse at his first show

My horse at his first show

My horse at his first show

My horse at his first show

My horse at his first show

My horse at his first show

My horse at his first show

My horse at his first show

My horse at his first show


When to lead, when to follow... and when to text

Today we went for a trail ride for the first time since before I went on vacation. I was going to go with the folks who graze a lot (they trail ride frequently, which is why I go with them so often, although I don't like how much they graze), but I was running late and they left before I got there. I decided to just ride in the arena and work on cantering, and then maybe ride down to the start of the trails and back to see how he did alone, but before I started I discovered there was another group heading out in a bit.

I went out with three riders and horses I haven't ridden the trails with before: two of the teenage girls at the barn and their horses, and another woman I would guess is around 40. It was her second time out on the trail with her horse, which I didn't find out until we got back and started chatting, so I think she was a little worried about how he would do. He did fine, of course!

We mixed things up this time by going "backwards" — doing the usual loop but in the other direction. One of the younger girls took the lead, and Panama and I fell in behind her. He was a bit frustrated with that at first, and kept trying to pass her, but when he realized I wasn't going to let him, he finally relaxed and paced himself to stay behind her.

I did notice with some amusement that the girl in front of me spent about half of the ride with her cell phone in her hand, texting. I rarely send texts while I'm riding, and I certainly don't have whole conversations like that — not only am I concerned about him spooking and causing me to drop my phone, but I also am riding because I enjoy riding. How can you enjoy it with a phone in your hand and your mind on something else?

Anyway, we had a nice, enjoyable ride, albeit a short one — that loop goes so much quicker when you don't continually stop to graze! I did ride in the arena a little before and after the trail ride, and we got a little cantering practice in. I think Panama was still a bit revved up from the show, because he was having a hard time slowing down his trot, and his head was in the air a lot! But a few circles, lots of trotting, and a few laps at the canter seemed to take care of that.

I'm planning to hit the trail with the grazers on Wednesday, but I think I may try to get out to the barn and get some good arena work in tomorrow. Now that I am feeling more comfortable with the canter, I'm enjoying it very much, and I want to practice it some more!

By the way, I discovered I have some more pictures to share from the horse show. Stay tuned and I'll post them this evening!


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Panama's first horse show

Me and my gelding at our first horse show

This morning Panama and I went to our first horse show. We didn't actually participate in the show, but we were there! We spent more than two hours riding in the warm up ring while the show was going on. It was great experience for him and I have high hopes that we'll be able to ride in the next show.

There was a little while when I doubted we would get there at all. On Thursday we were supposed to trailer over to the barn where the schooling show was being held, to do a lesson on the premises and give him and Daisy (who was going with us) a chance to get used to the new surroundings. Unfortunately, he wouldn't load and we ended up not going.

My trainer and I practiced loading yesterday and he did fine, but he still wouldn't get in this morning until she arrived to load him. (He listens to her so much better than he listens to me.) I was just glad to make it to the show.

At first Panama was handling the new environment pretty well, but that ended when Daisy was taken away from him. He started whinnying for her periodically, and kept it up long after he had calmed down.

My horse showing his Arab at a schooling show

I saddled him up and took him into the warm up ring. There were only a few horses and their riders in there when I mounted, but within moments the half-arena was full. I didn't count how many horses there were, but there had to be close to 20. Panama had been a bit anxious as it was, but with all those horses being there, he pretty much fell apart. He kept trying to trot and I was having a really hard time controlling him, so I kept having to turn him into the rail to stop him — he was so amped up that he was trying to run right through the bit. He may be a very forward horse but that blatant disregard for the bit is very rare for him.

Here he is staring at the loud speaker equipment, which was on the ground on the other side of the fence. He was fascinated and somewhat intimidated by it, as you can see by his body language:

My horse at a schooling show

I knew right away that we wouldn't be riding in the show. After a spook to the side which nearly put us into a passing horse, followed by a brief tantrum that I think may have been an attempt at a buck, a woman came over and asked if I wanted to ride in the empty show arena until it was time for the first class. It was the woman I had spoken to about checking in, and since I'd told her that I needed to see how he was going to respond first, she knew the situation. We both agreed riding in the classes was not going to work, but that it would be good for him to get used to the sights and sounds of the show.

Sure enough, he calmed down right away in the empty arena. She still asked that I leave the arenas entirely for the first couple of classes, though. Those were the easier classes, and therefore the smallest and least experienced kids (and the classes I would have ridden in, but I didn't tell her that). She was concerned that if Panama freaked out in the practice arena, right next to the show ring, the littler ones wouldn't be able to handle it if their horses freaked out too in response.

So I walked him around for about 20 minutes and let him munch on some grass. He was very jittery at first — he spooked sideways and tried to jump in my lap when he saw the stacks of hay bales covered with giant tarps, and staring at the tractor that was driving around — but he did settle down. By the time we were able to go back to the practice ring, he was much calmer, though he was still whinnying for Daisy periodically!

My horse at a schooling show

Perhaps because he was hollering every few minutes and drawing everyone's attention to him (and he has a very cute, high-pitched whinny — eeeEEEEEEEeeee), we got a lot of compliments when we got back to the practice ring. I heard a lot of "Oh he's soooo cute!" and "What a beautiful horse!" The woman who let me into the other arena also knew without being told that he was an Arab cross, which is always gratifying because we know so little for sure about his breeding.

We rode in the practice ring for probably close to two more hours. We did A LOT of walking, since Panama was still a bit excitable, but we did get some trotting in too, particularly toward the end. We also walked and trotted over some poles until the girls in the jumping classes had to start warming up. Unfortunately we were in full sun and both of us started getting very hot. I had a headache, probably from dehydration (even though I was sucking down water every chance I got) and the sun on my black helmet.

I wish this picture wasn't so overexposed, as it was my favorite from the day. I like my expression and the way he is looking right at the camera. I have a similar expression on my face in most of the pictures, which is amazing, considering how focused I was having to be on keeping him under control.

Riding my horse at a schooling show

Panama was a bit stubborn at first about getting back into the trailer to go home, but my trainer had him in within a few minutes, anyway. She is amazingly good at working through his stubbornness. I wonder if she knows she is going to have to be with us for the rest of his life...

I am very proud at how well Panama did today; even though he was pretty upset at first, it was understandable since it was his first show, and he did calm down faster than I thought he would. Although I didn't get any ribbons, I got tons of compliments on Panama, and I like those better anyway!


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

We're definitely cantering now

Today I went out to the barn and rode Panama for the first time since before we left on our vacation (more on that in another post). Although I didn't ride for very long — perhaps 20 or 30 minutes at most — I did something I haven't done before: I cantered all by myself, without my trainer present.

If you have been following my blog for a while, you know that is a big deal for me. While we were training Panama, I developed a fear of cantering, despite the fact that I did it without fear (or falling) as a kid. I'm not sure why exactly I developed this fear, but I think the fact that I fell off of Panama a few times when he bolted as a greenie probably had something to do with it. It has taken me two years to overcome this fear — both last summer and the summer before, I got to the point where I was just starting to canter, but something always happened to prevent me from progressing any further... and getting over my fear.

The last few months, I've been cantering, but only when my trainer made me. I hadn't yet worked up the nerve to do it without her, either. It was only the last few lessons, when I could feel that Panama and I were both getting better, that I finally started thinking that maybe I was ready. My trainer told me after our last lesson that I didn't seem afraid anymore, and laughed about me nonchalantly transferring both reins to one hand to push up my glasses at the canter — something I would never have done before.

After today, I think it is safe to say that I have finally overcome my fear of cantering. In a way, it was cantering by myself that did it, as if it proved something to that part of me that was still a little afraid. We cantered a couple of times in each direction, several times around the arena each time, which is a huge deal for us — and I was confident enough to actually look in the mirrors to check my form as we went by! (Again, something I wouldn't have — or couldn't have — done before.) I doubt I look very good at the canter, as I feel like I am still coming out of the saddle a little bit too much, but I am at least starting to catch the rhythm in my upper body.

My sudden breakthrough has impeccable timing — my show is this weekend! I can't write about that much right now, or I'll start getting nervous, so instead I'll start preparing a post about the fun little vacation we just got back from. Stay tuned!


Friday, June 11, 2010

Cantering progress

I've been forgetting to post about many of my cantering lessons — I even have some videos from a lesson a little while back (including a video where Panama took off with his head in the air like a giraffe) that I forgot to post.

But in the meantime, I've improved quite a bit. My trainer told me on Tuesday that I don't seem afraid anymore, and while I think I still feel it a little bit (dreading it a little still, and a brief "Oh shit" feeling before I canter for the first time every lesson), I have to admit I'm doing much better. I lose a stirrup at least once every lesson, and it never fazes me — in fact, my trainer wants to take them away from me completely after the show! (Oh my!)

I also think Panama is getting better. He used to always take off on me at least once during every lesson, cantering completely out of control, head in the air. The last couple of lessons, however, he hasn't done that. Instead, his takeoffs have been rather smooth, and he's been more subdued at the canter, actually sometimes requiring some leg to keep him going (unusual for him since he is so forward). I think he is losing some of his initial excitement about getting to canter, and is now learning to focus more on his job: taking care of me. My trainer says he's finally growing up!

I'll try to remember my camera next week so that you can see how I've improved. For fun, I might do some before and after footage, too!


Monday, June 7, 2010

Exploring new trails

Yesterday Panama and I went on a trail ride with Windy and her owner, Pawnee (a new friend) and Windy's owner's husband (who is borrowing Pawnee), and Flash and her owner. To my excitement, when I got there I found out that they were planning a new, longer route, based on a ride they had taken on Saturday with another friend who trailered in.

The route we took snaked over part of the park. We started out like normal, until we passed the riding stables in the park; then we turned and went out past the public arena, where there was a water trough. I guess their other friend encouraged them all to get their horses to drink out of the trough while being ridden yesterday, and they all had to work for it because the horses were scared of the trough at first. I was rather amused that Panama walked right up, swished his nose around in the water a little bit, and took a drink without any alarm whatsoever.

(Of course, just moments before he had shied away from a couple of small, skinny white poles leaning up against the arena fence, so I suppose I shouldn't be too proud. But it just goes to show that my trainer is right, and Panama has it all backwards — what other horses normally fear, he is fine with, but he shies away from silly things that other horses would never even give a second look.)

From there we crossed the road and headed down the hillside to the trails along the creek, where we did our water crossing a couple of weeks ago. We spotted another group of horseback riders up ahead, and then we had a scary moment when the lead horse (Pawnee) started trotting and Panama did too, and I couldn't stop him because he was going to exactly what the lead horse did, gosh darn it... But Windy's owner yelled at her husband and that ended that.

After that we crossed the bridge, and this time Panama wasn't any more than a little concerned. Last time the water had really been rushing from the snowmelt, and Panama hugged the downstream side of the bridge like he thought the water was going to jump right up and grab him! No problems this time, though I'm glad we were second in line — Flash's owner, who was bringing up the rear, had to dismount and lead her horse.

When I crossed that bridge with Mozart's owner, we had doubled back and followed the creek back until we found a good water crossing, but this time we veered off to the right and followed a different trail up a hill and across a large field. The trail also passed through a prairie dog village — I was wondering if Panama would freak, since he used to be scared of rabbits, but he didn't pay them any mind.

We were quite a while on this trail, probably 20 or 30 minutes, before we turned and went down a hill to double back to the creek. Panama wouldn't go first across the creek, even though he'd wanted to lead most of the way — he stepped in, checked out the water, and took a drink, but didn't seem to understand that I wanted him to cross the water. So we climbed a little hill and circled around to the back of the line to let everyone else go first.

Unfortunately, that put us behind Flash, who had never crossed water before. She pranced a little bit on the bank, picking up her feet very daintily like a child who didn't want to get her toes wet, and then finally sprinted across the creek (I think she tried to jump the current). Panama followed along behind her at a walk, but halfway across decided he'd better run, too. He's not scared of water crossings, so I don't think he would have done that if Flash hadn't — I should have known better than to put him in the back behind the nervous newbie.

After following the creek a short distance, we suddenly plunged into a swarm of mosquitoes. They were so bad that I think Panama considered bucking, and possibly half-bucked: I saw his shoulders come up, and then felt his back end rise as the front went down. I don't know if he bucked or just kicked out a little, but I think he knew he wasn't supposed to, because it wasn't very pronounced.

He continued to hate those mosquitoes, though, and wormed his way back to the head of the line — he wanted to get OUT of there. He had fly spray on, but evidently not enough, so I kept brushing them off of his neck and shoulders (and mine too) every time they landed. Then we went through one more thick spot, and he started trotting. As a result, we got up the hill and away from the creek before anyone else, and had to wait at the top for our friends to catch up. (Flash's owner had to dismount again here, as Flash for some reason decided to buck and her owner decided the steep hill was better navigated on foot.)

From there it was just a short ride back to the barn. We circled around to the public arena again, got more drinks at the trough (Flash played in the water, and Panama watched her and then tried it himself), and then went into the arena to let them run a bit. Panama was a bit of a basket case at first, and his trot was totally out of control, so we walked a lot. As we got back to the gate, he spotted the big black plastic tensioners on the fence straps, and spun and bolted. (See what I mean about things that other horses would never even notice?) After a brief wrestling match over who was going to control the reins, I slowed him down and we circled past the gate several times in each direction, at both the walk and the trot.

Other than a spook on the way back over by the driveway signs Panama hates (Flash ran into one and crow hopped, sending Panama scooting forward to get away from the scary Thing that was going to eat his friend), we got back to the barn without any more excitement. The entire ride had taken nearly 2 hours, and it was a hot day so I got a bit burned. It was tons of fun, though — I'm going to really enjoy these longer rides!


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Trail ride + horseback riding lesson = exhausting day!

Getting my horse ready for a trail ride

Panama and I both had a big day Friday. We went for a trail ride in the morning, and then had a lesson in the afternoon, with only an hour's break in between. I think it would have been better if we'd had no break in between, because I actually had more energy right after the trail ride than after I'd sat around and relaxed for an hour!

The trail ride was actually a pretty easy one, but it was hotter than I'd expected and I was dressed a little too warmly for it. (I had just hooked up my iPhone and was using their weather app, which apparently isn't very accurate — it predicted a full ten degrees lower than the day actually was!) We had five people on the trail ride — bigger than usual — but the two who set it up were Zans and Shadoman's owners, who like to let their horses graze a lot. Lady's owner and the mother of one of my trainer's other students (who also sometimes takes lessons) came too.

We did the usual loop, which Zans and Shadoman's owners really like, but I am getting very bored of it, and especially bored of all the grazing. Like I've said before, I've found that a few bites here and there calm and reward Panama when needed or deserved, but I don't want to spend my time sitting on him doing nothing while he eats! Zans's owner always says, "It has to be fun for them too," but I think that's discounting the fact that most of the horses really like trail rides (as opposed to riding in the arena).

Anyway, I discovered on Friday that not only does Panama prefer to lead, he is starting to get downright antsy if he's not leading — and he nearly had a complete meltdown when we were last for a short stretch! I've come to realize that his speedwalking when behind another horse is probably his attempt to pass the other horse and get in front again. We didn't work on it much on Friday, but I know I've got to break him of this — he needs to be able to handle being anywhere in the line of horses. I can't have him melting down every time we bring up the rear!

Trail ride on my horse

When we got back from the trail ride, Panama's buddy Spaghetti was getting worked, so I rode in the outdoor arena with his owner for a few minutes. Spaghetti, who is a BLM mustang about the same age as Panama, but not as far along in his training, was having a really bad day — he kept ignoring his rider's commands and trying to play with Panama while we were riding, and then finally he laid down and tried to roll with his rider still on him. She managed to get out of the way and get him to his feet again, but not before he rolled on her knee a little bit!

I realized I'd better take a break before my lesson, so I unsaddled Panama and put him back in his corral while I hung out and chatted with the other boarders. When it came time for my lesson, though, I was more tired than I'd been right after the ride, I guess because I was so relaxed from my break. The good news is that Panama was tired and relaxed also, so although he didn't mind being ridden again (he greeted me with a nicker when I came to get him), he was much less eager to run than usual. As a result, we did some great work at the canter!

It was an exhausting day, but so satisfying — for both of us, I think!

After ride treat for my horse!


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Animal cruelty policies need stiffer enforcement

I'm not planning on going out to the barn today, so I'll post a link to a story that I've been meaning to blog about for some time.

This article ran in our local paper last week: Man who dragged horse sentenced for felony cruelty

The title of the article sounds nice and tough, but his sentence is anything but that. The guy was given a year in work-release, which is pretty damn lenient — too good for this scum, if you ask me. As a friend of mine pointed out, you get more time for smoking pot! Why does a joint matter more than an animal's life?

Deputy District Attorney Alexis King, who likened Blue's condition to that of a victim of a concentration camp, asked Tidball to sentence McCulley to prison saying it "was the only appropriate sentence."

Tidball declined, saying she thought McCulley was sorry.

Sorry? I think if he was sorry, he would have learned his lesson the first time his horses were taken away from him for neglect: They were taken away from him 2 years prior, in 2007. Sadly, the horses were returned to him in good health the following year, so that he could starve them all over again.

Many of those horses had been seized in a prior animal abuse case against McCully, in 2007.

A search warrant wasn't used in the 2007 case, and the horses taken at the time were returned to McCulley in 2008 in "healthy condition."

If law enforcement had taken it seriously the first time he starved his horses, this wouldn't have happened. Colorado has the stiffest penalties for animal cruelty in the nation, yet all this guy gets is a slap on the wrist. Even now, when he has tortured and killed a starving horse, all he gets is a year of work-release and five years of probation. The only good thing that has come out of it is that he isn't allowed any contact with animals, but the way the article is written it seems like that might only be for his probationary period. He needs to be banned from owning animals for life!

This story goes to show that a state's animal cruelty policies are only as good as the people who uphold it. It doesn't matter how tough the maximum sentences are on animal abusers, if law enforcement and the courts don't follow through!


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Trail rides, trail rides, and MORE trail rides!

Taken from horseback while on a trail ride

We've been going for a lot of trail rides lately — can you tell?

Panama's fly bites were doing much better, so early Monday morning, we went out with Voodoo and his owner. Voodoo did pretty well for his first time out this season. He was a bit anxious and pranced a bit, but overall did really well.

When we got back, Windy's owner was all tacked up, so I went right back out with her. Windy is an older (24-year-old) mare with virtually no teeth and a perfect example of how a horse doesn't have to be skinny just because it's old. She is fed only food that she can digest without much chewing and is ridden regularly. She is shiny and fit!

Anyway, we spent about 2 hours on the trail between the 2 rides, and Panama was a trooper! We had one scary moment when he insisted on giving a wide berth to two signs stuck in the ground on either side of the riding stables driveway — he went right into the road to avoid walking next to them, no matter how much rein and leg I used. Apparently we need to work on desensitizing to Signs That Weren't There Last Week.

We also had another instance that reminded me of how smart he is. We always pass a yurt on the way out, regardless of which trail we take — it's before the trails split. When we passed it with Voodoo, there were people and cars there (which amped Voodoo up a bit). But when we passed it with Windy, they were gone. Panama is never bothered by the activity there, but the second time around, he kept looking at the empty campground and was clearly surprised by the change!

Panama has also been doing a lot of leading lately. It turns out he loves to lead, and tends to walk slower and carry his head lower when he is in front. When he is behind a horse, on the other hand, he keeps his head in the air and walks so close to the horse in front of him that he has to always hold his head to one side. Granted, when he leads we do have the occasional balk when he sees something new or different and wants to stop and look at it, but I can always get him going again without having to ask someone else to take the lead, so I'm okay with that.

This morning we went on another trail ride, this time with Zans and his owner. I am hesitant to fiddle with my camera while on horseback, as I worry about dropping it, but today I did snap some pictures with my cell phone. I apologize for the poor quality, but at least you can see how pretty the park is!

Taken from horseback while on  a trail ride

Taken from horseback while  on  a trail ride

Taken from horseback while  on  a trail ride

Zans is the very slow horse, and his owner is one of the ones who lets her horse graze all the time. After taking so many trail rides lately where I didn't have to deal with that, I found I was much more impatient with all the grazing than I was before. As Panama gets more confident on the trail, I am finding that he "needs" to graze much less, so we're down to just letting him snatch a couple of bites two or three times throughout the ride. That's good for me, and seems to be good for him too.

Today there was much more grazing. I was glad I was leading, because it kept most of it to a minimum — she had to keep her horse moving because I just didn't stop to wait for her as much! We actually finished up the ride without her because when we got close to the gate, she said I could go on ahead. Panama was starting to act like a jerk because he wanted to graze and I wasn't letting him, so when we got back I rode him in the arena until he settled down.

I'm loving all the trail rides, but I think I really am going to have to find more trail buddies that don't graze so much. I have tentative plans for a weekly trail ride with Panama's girlfriend Lady and her owner, and I think Voodoo's owner wants to start riding more often on the weekends. Mozart's owner will have a harder time coordinating rides in the summer, but we should be able to go together once a week or so. All in all, it should be a summer FULL of trail rides!