Sunday, August 29, 2010


Yearling stud colt

I got the halter on the colt today!

I knew we had made good progress last time, and I was hoping I would get the halter on him today at last, but there were several times when I really wondered. For example, when I pulled out the lead rope for the first time today and he bolted, even though we'd worked with it twice before.

I was able to get back to where we had been pretty quickly. Rodeo leads just fine with a rope around his neck now. Today I got his nose into the halter for the first time, and although he didn't like the feeling of being restrained and pulled it right back out again, he got lots of praise (and a treat) for that.

For a while we didn't progress much beyond that point, as he was still trying to dodge the halter half the time. After a dozen or so attempts, I was able to hold the halter on his nose a little longer. Then I started bringing the halter up the sides of his face but not yet trying to buckle it. He was having some difficulty with that.

That's when I had my stroke of genius. Instead of trying to get him used to the halter strap over his poll when he was also worrying about the nose part, I stopped putting his nose into it for a few minutes, and just made the motions like I was going to buckled it over his poll. He got over it quickly then, so I started putting his nose into it again. Within a few more tries, I was able to get the halter all the way on — and he didn't care at all when I flipped the strap over his poll!

I was so pleased that I decided to quit on that note without making him do it again. I left the halter on a moment, unclipped the lead rope, and gave him a whole handful of treats. Then I clipped the lead rope back on and took the halter off. I opened the round pen gate (it opens directly into the pasture) and attempted to dismiss him, but he didn't want to leave! He followed me around while I gathered my stuff, and then hung out in the round pen for a while after I left, waiting to see if I'd come back.

I think this colt is going to turn out to be a really nice horse.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Playdate pictures and an evening ride

Today was a gorgeous day. It started out overcast and rainy, but around midday, the sun came out. The day stayed much cooler than it has been lately, so it was sunny and a comfortable temperature. What more can you ask for?

I hadn't ridden since Thursday (when we went for a really nice trail ride that I forgot to blog about), so when Spaghetti's owner asked if I wanted to schedule a playdate, I jumped at the chance. We met at the barn this afternoon and turned the horses loose in the arena together.

Horses playing

Spaghetti is a striking gruella mustang, just slightly smaller than Panama. They are about the same age, and they seem to play really well together.

Horses playing

There was lots of bucking...

Horses playing

...and also lots of their favorite game, bitey face.

Horses playing

After they'd had enough, we let them graze in the yard for a bit while we chatted, and then both of us rode for about half an hour in the arena. I didn't work on much, just a light review of what we've been working on lately: head set and rounding, maintaining the same pace, and focusing on me despite distractions. He did reasonably well — he's still getting distracted, but he's also remembering what we've done before, and responding well to reminders when his attention drifts.

The most persistent bad habit is speeding up when we trot down the straight side of the arena that faces his corral — I think he sees home and gets excited. He is much worse about it when we go clockwise — he is showing a strong preference for going to the left.

Anyway, I kept the ride short and pleasant — we trotted for most of it, but I let him quit as soon as he gave me what I wanted in each direction. I want to get a longer ride in again soon, but this was a good refresher after four days off!


Monday, August 23, 2010

More work with the colt

My husband was supposed to take some pictures of me with Rodeo on Saturday, but he neglected his duties, so he's the one you can blame for this post being picture-less. The good news is that I made some more progress with the colt, another big step closer to getting a halter on him.

As Rodeo is figuring things out, I find I'm working with him for shorter periods of time. The first night I spent several hours with him, but I think I'm down to about an hour. I think it's because there was so much more to do that first night, but as we make progress I am getting to be able to recognize the signals he throws off — when he's had enough, and when we've accomplished something major. I've heard that it's good to keep training with young horses short and to the point, so that they don't lose focus or stop learning; that first night, it just didn't feel right to stop early on, but I'm beginning to recognize that point sooner now.

Anyway, we did accomplish some good stuff on Saturday. He is getting the concept that when he won't pay attention to me, I am going to keep him moving until he does — in fact, he's getting it so well that as soon as I start swinging the lead line to drive him forward, he turns and faces me. (That's something I'll have to undo if and when I start lunging him, but right now I'm more concerned about getting this halter on him so we can get the farrier and the vet out.)

He is also learning to give to pressure — big step! I'm putting the lead line around his neck regularly now, and I can hold it under his jaw and walk a few steps with him. He hasn't yet figured out how to stay on just one side of me when I lead him, but I don't care. What's phenomenal to me is that he is figuring out to give to the pressure on the back of his neck. It's still a work in process — sometimes he won't give, and once he turned away from me and half-reared up, which I got him in trouble for (the biggest trouble he's gotten in yet). We had to start over with the lead rope after that, since he associated it with getting in trouble, and I could tell he was really thinking about it, trying to figure it out. He's a smart boy.

He's also figuring out whoa and the little ehhhhh noise I make when he starts to do the wrong thing. He responds and changes what he's doing about half the time, maybe a little more. He is still flighty, yet I think he wants to please.

The most astonishing thing is that he is now permitting me to touch his face — a sudden and completely new improvement. I am able to stand at his shoulder facing the same direction as him, as I would if I were haltering him, and touch his opposite cheek. I can even now put my hand gently over his nose! He has also let me kiss his adorable little nose a few times.

I think we may get that halter on him next time. What do you think?


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Haltering a half-wild yearling

I have taken on an interesting project lately. My mother-in-law acquired a yearling stud colt recently — it's a long story, but basically my sister-in-law wanted to the colt's pregnant mother, and the neighbor who owned them refused to give just one of them up. They were both "free," but of course they both need immediate attention, as the neighbor was your classic irresponsible horse owner. The mare's feet hadn't been done in ages, and her owner wasn't doing anything about the fact that she kept getting out (which is how she got pregnant both times — from the same stud).

The poor colt had NEVER been handled, and has NEVER had his feet done. I think he might actually be older than 12 months, since he's got to be 14 hands or a little taller, and his feet have a lot of growth on them. My mother-in-law was planning on turning around and rehoming him, but in the meantime he has to have his feet trimmed and his equipment removed! Of course, until we get a halter on him, there's nothing we can do about either problem.

It reminds me a lot of Panama's situation, since his mother was also pregnant, and he was about a year old (albeit much smaller), when we rescued him. Therefore I have felt very compelled to help out — though it's also partly because I fear it won't get done otherwise.

Meet Rodeo (and please excuse the crappy iPhone pictures, I forgot my camera):

Yearling stud colt

I have to admit, his sweet face is stealing my heart. Not that he's anywhere near as cute as Panama... but he's close. When I showed my farrier a picture, he said the coloring is called strawberry roan; I had never seen it before.

Strawberry roan horse

When they first got him, my mother-in-law said, you couldn't even touch him. He'd clearly never been handled, probably hardly even been around people at all, and was incredibly skittish about it. He was getting better, but when I first saw him on Sunday, he was still not comfortable with being touched and had never accepted a hand-fed treat.

I started out by giving him a couple of treats. I discovered his mom was quite pushy, and it wasn't until I succeeded in shooing her off that he felt comfortable inspecting the treat and, eventually, taking it. After a few more, he started getting the idea that even if people were scary, they had good things to eat in their pockets!

We took his mom out of the round pen so that I could work with him alone. He was already starting to take an interest in me (the Treat Master), so I started teaching him that paying attention to me was good, and not paying attention to me was bad: I (gently) drove him in circles around the round pen when he stopped paying attention, and rewarded him by stopping as soon as he showed the smallest sign of paying attention to me. Pretty soon I had him standing still and letting me approach him, which earned him more treats.

It was dusk at this point, but I kept working with him well after dark, since it didn't seem to bother him. Once he figured out that praise was a good thing, I backed off on the treats, but I kept giving them for any major accomplishment. It took a couple of hours, but after a while I was able to stroke his neck and shoulder a little bit, and when I walked around the round pen he would follow me. I didn't want to rush haltering him, because I don't want to ruin the tentative trust he is developing, so that was as far as we got Sunday night.

Last night I went down there and we worked on it some more. I can rub on his neck and shoulder, and even run my hand down to about his hip, as long as I don't do anything to startle him — he is still a bit quick to flight, even though he has decided I'm more or less okay. I also succeeded in looping the lead rope around his neck and taking him for a short walk (about 10 steps) — a huge step because he is so alarmed by anything that makes him feel the slightest bit confined.

I did get him to start putting his nose into a halter, but didn't try to force it up and over his nose. Like I said, I don't want to rush it, but we definitely need to work on it again some more, and soon — I noticed last night that his hind feet are clearly causing him some discomfort. He walks very gingerly and awkwardly, and often takes turns resting them when standing still. When viewed from behind, you can see that his heels are nearly on the ground! His front feet are bad, too, but they don't seem to be causing him any discomfort.

Quite a little project I've discovered for myself, isn't it? The problem is that I am starting to get a little bit attached to him, even though I know I can't afford a second horse. I must have a soft spot for neglected babies!


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Frustration and more falling

Humpty Dumpty sat on a horse.
Humpty Dumpty fell, of course.

That's how I feel right now. I fell again yesterday — that makes 12 times, now! — and this time I'm making up for not being sore lately, as I fell in the field and didn't have that wonderful arena sand to cushion my fall. This time was anything but graceful, too, so there goes my theory about getting better at falling! Nope, instead I fell flat on my tailbone and lower back — you know, right where your butt crack starts. Somehow I also managed to get a foot stuck in the reins as I fell (???) and broke them. Dammit.

This has been four days in the making. On Friday I had a lesson and we rode in the outside arena, and Panama was an absolute spaz. I've been doing arena work almost exclusively in the indoors, and as a result he's very well behaved in there, but cannot seem to focus outside. He won't bend, won't keep a steady pace, falls in with his right shoulder going to the right, etc. We worked on it for quite a while on Friday.

Saturday morning, my grandfather died, so I thought I'd go out to the barn for a little horse therapy. I don't know if it was my mood or his, but Panama was awful! I rode him for well over an hour, most of it spent fighting with him over whether he was going to cut the corner and speed up at the same place every single time.

Eventually I realized he was starting to worry about that spot because he always got in trouble there, so I had Michael stand at the rail right there, and we did several walking circles where we stopped to talk to him — to get Panama to associate that spot with stopping and resting, rather than speeding up and getting in trouble. After that, I was able to get him to walk through without changing his pace or throwing his shoulder in, so I called it a day — I was afraid if we trotted it would fall apart all over again.

Sunday was actually pretty good. On my trainer's suggestion, I worked on the same thing, but at the opposite end of the arena, away from the "bad" spot. Panama did reasonably well — perfect to the left, and only needing a little bit of work to the right. We accomplished in just half an hour what we couldn't do in an hour and a half the previous day. I wanted to make a point about how easy it is when he gives me what I want, so we quit as soon as I got it.

So I was very pleased when I went out to ride yesterday, thinking we were well on our way to getting over his disorganization in the outdoor arena. I did manage to get some good work done with him in the arena yesterday, working on rounder circles to the right (which requires him to keep his shoulder up instead of letting it fall in) — we got it at the walk, but the trot took a lot of work and the canter was so hopeless I stopped trying, figuring we had to get it at the trot first, anyway! He's so good about it to the left — I wish I knew how to explain to him that I just want the same thing in the other direction.

After I finally got a halfway decent trot circle, I decided to reward him with a little ride in the field. I want to eventually be able to take him a short distance on the trail by ourselves, so I figure we can start out by riding alone in the field. We did this last week and he was fine with it. Yesterday, not so much.

I think it may have been the wind in the weeds that spooked him. The first time he bolted, I was able to get him back under control, and we walked back through the spot where he'd taken off. He was definitely antsy, so I thought I'd work through it some more with him. But when he bolted the next time, I wasn't able to pull him back down. I was pulling so hard I was pulling myself forward, and he didn't care.

I tried to turn him left into a one-rein stop, but then realized he had too much speed at that point, and let up. He shot back to the right and I felt it unbalance me. I remember thinking, "Maybe I should bail?" and I swear, my body decided that was a good idea and did it without my permission! It was like I got behind and then let him go, and he rode right out from under me. I fell on the upper part of my butt and my lower back, and scraped up my elbow. There was no rolling or soft footing to absorb the impact. I hit the ground like a sack of potatoes.

It knocked the wind out of me and hurt like the dickens, and it took a few minutes before I was able to get up. A couple other boarders went and caught Panama for me (who had kept running as he thought if I was going to turn into a mountain lion and start chasing him). I took him inside and we rode in the indoor arena for about 20 minutes — heck if I was going to let him end on that note!

He clearly knew he'd been bad and spent that 20 minutes trying to show me how good and SLOW he could be — so slow, in fact, that I had to keep clucking to him to ask for more speed! Once there was a huge crash of something hitting the outside wall of the arena, and he started to spin and bolt. I remember thinking, Oh no, not again! But about halfway through the spin, he slammed on the brakes and just stood there, like he remembered he wasn't supposed to do that. I was very proud of him for that — it almost made up for his idiocy in the field.

Anyway, I was pretty sore last night, though riding after the fall did seem to help loosen everything up in my lower back. I came home and started popping ibuprofen and alternating between heat and ice — ice to reduce swelling, heat to prevent stiffening and soreness and to promote healing. I was sure today I'd be even worse, but to my surprise, it's better.

Which is good, because I have a lesson this afternoon!


Thursday, August 12, 2010

...and we all fall down!

Yes, I fell again. I had another jumping lesson on Tuesday, and after our first jump, Panama decided he wanted to turn toward the wall. I was a bit slow with the reins, so he started to turn, saw the rail rushing up to us, and decided he didn't have enough time to do what I was asking. He shot off to the right, and I went down on the left.

Panama stopped about 10 feet away, right next to the jump, and looked sheepish. I got back on and we did it again.

And again, and again.

Despite that little fall, we actually had a pretty good lesson. My trainer worked us hard, and I was exhausted afterward, but we also accomplished a lot. I finally figured out how not to bounce around so much cantering in the two-point (something I've been having problems with), and I made some improvements on jumping. (I have a hard time remembering to look up and stay forward, among other things.)

In other news, though, remember the trail ride a month ago when Panama bucked me off and kicked my friend and her horse? Well, it turns out her ankle was fractured. It didn't show up in x-rays at first, but it wasn't healing, so she went back and had it x-rayed again. After going about her normal routine for a month, the fracture is now visible, so on Monday she had surgery to put some pins in it and help it heal.

I feel awful, but she just keeps saying it was an accident, and for all we know Voodoo did something to antagonize Panama. Regardless, I am now much more attentive to Panama's more subtle signals on a trail ride. He was listening to Voodoo a lot before he kicked him, and I could feel the nervous energy, so I am now on the lookout for that particular combination!


Monday, August 2, 2010

A successful trailer-in lesson

After Panama's first horse show, Daisy's owners and I decided to do a couple of trailer-in lessons at the barn where the schooling show was held. Daisy's owners and I use the same trainer, and she has connections to the other barn, so it seemed like a good way to prepare for the next show in September.

Last Friday, we had our first trailer-in lesson since the show. We had tried to do a trailer-in lesson a couple days before the show, but Panama wouldn't load, so Daisy went without us. I was a bit worried that the same thing would happen on Friday, but Panama loaded easily — for my trainer, of course.

He did well at the lesson, too, quite to my surprise. Daisy's teenage rider is jumping, so for our shared lesson my trainer had us ride in the arena with all the jumps. And I mean, there were a LOT of jumps. At first Panama was pretty scared of them, but we followed Daisy for half a lap and he calmed down a bit when he saw she wasn't worried. Then my trainer asked us to walk the horses in between the jumps. After a few balks, and one spin and a half-hearted attempt at a bolt, Panama got over it.

In fact, he was doing so well that we were able to canter (my litmus test for how good his self-control is at the moment — he doesn't canter well when he's up). We also did trot poles and a pile of poles, and he did fine with all of it.

The icing on the cake was when it was time to leave. My trainer had another lesson and couldn't help us load right away, so she told me just to try and if it didn't work, she'd help when she was done. I was really concerned that Panama wouldn't load for me, since he does much better for my trainer. But he did — one foot at a time, but on the first try. We didn't have to back out or take a break, even if he did make me think a few times that we might have to!

What a promising day! I am looking forward to the schooling show in the fall, where maybe this time, Panama can strut his stuff in more than just the practice ring!


Sunday, August 1, 2010

Back in business

It's been a while since I blogged, and I'm sorry about the delay. The past 2 weeks, I spent virtually every free moment reading — I got hooked on the books the TV show True Blood is based on, and read all 10 in under 2 weeks. (I also read a wonderful YA horse novel that I'll blog about later.) I'm almost relieved now that I've read them all, and can get back to real life.

My reading also took a lot of time away from Panama, I'm afraid. I rode only a few times since I last blogged, and none of them were trail rides. I did try one day, a day or so after my last blog post, but Panama was a bit hyper from not having been out for several days. I knew within moments of mounting that a trail ride wasn't going to work, so I stayed behind and rode him in the arena.

I was trying out Off's Clip-On Mosquito Repellent, which I'm hoping will keep the bugs off of him as well as me on the trail. I think it was just as well we didn't go out that day, though, because it gave him a chance to adjust to the sound of the fan. It is very quiet, but when we stop moving he can hear it. He was a bit upset about it at first, but that quickly subsided into concern and attentiveness.

Horseback riding

After we rode for a bit, I dismounted and untacked and let him roll. One of the boarders who works a bit around the barn decided to groom the arena, and said I could leave Panama in. At first he just watched the tractor, but then he apparently decided this was a great opportunity for fun! I don't believe he was truly scared, just kicking up his heels!

Horse vs. Tractor

I had a lesson that Friday — two Fridays ago — and we practiced jumping. Panama is going great with the jumping, better than me. We're just trotting up to a low cross rail, and apparently I'm holding him back too much at the trot. (When did he learn to keep that slow, even trot? It's like he learned, without me even realizing it, that I prefer a slower trot.) I'm also having a hard time keeping my position over the jump — I'm not pulling on his face, I'm happy to report, but I'm not staying forward enough and the saddle is hitting my butt.

On the weekend, Michael and I went out to the barn. We didn't have much time, so I just tooled around on Panama bareback for 15 minutes or so.

Bareback riding

And then I didn't ride again until my lesson on Friday (though I did arrange for a playdate between Panama and Spaghetti). The lesson was a big deal and deserves a more detailed post, so now that I've caught you up, I'll save that story for tomorrow!