Saturday, January 30, 2010

Pros and cons of busy barns

The last two days have served as a reminder of the fact that I now board at a bigger barn than I've ever experienced before — and that there are both pros and cons to that.

Yesterday I had a lesson around lunchtime, which turned out to be a very busy time — I guess because it was a gorgeous day, and the day before had been so cold. (There's definitely something to be said for riding when poor weather keeps everyone else away.) I was the second rider into the outdoor arena, but within ten minutes' time, we had several more join us. At one point we had five or six horses in the arena at once!

Now, Panama and I have shared with one or two other horses before, but never that many. And to make things worse, one of those horses was his buddy Spaghetti, the little 4-year-old gruella mustang he sometimes gets turned out with. Spaghetti's owner, a girl in her early 20s who seems inexperienced but doesn't have a trainer working with her to make up for it, wasn't really doing much with him, so every time Panama would pass he'd turn to face us and I'd have to hustle Panama by him. I was pretty sure that Spaghetti wanted to play, and would have tried right then and there, crowded arena notwithstanding, if he'd had the chance.

Panama did pretty well sharing the arena with so many horses. Spaghetti left fairly early on, so we didn't have to worry about that particular distraction for too long. PT, a 4-year-old mare Panama also likes quite a bit, was in there with a rider too, but Panama got over that pretty quickly. I was pretty pleased with how well he did.

In truth, I'm the one who has a harder time with sharing an arena. I actually worry about it quite a bit. I'm just now learning the rules and etiquette, as I've never had to worry about it before. Also, as someone who used to be very shy, I quail at the thought of calling out "inside" or what-have-you to other riders. I'll get over it, but like most things relating to my natural shyness, it will take some getting used to.

Today was a much different sort of day. I got out to the barn around mid-morning, and already it was getting pretty busy. Today, however, everyone seemed to be on a different schedule, so there wasn't much arena-sharing going on. After snagging an arena for long enough to briefly turn Panama out with Lady, I decided to go ahead and ride. I rode with a fellow boarder in the arena, and then she invited us to ride with her in the field behind the barn for a little bit. We went out there, made a big loop, and came back.

It has been a year and a half since Panama and I have been out on the trails with another horse, and the first thing I noticed was that he was having a hard time keeping pace with the other horse. Panama likes to walk fairly quickly, especially when he is excited, and Zans walks verrrrrry slowwwwwwwly. I was having to turn Panama in circles in the arena to stay with Zans while his rider and I talked. Out in the field, I just stopped Panama when he got too far ahead. I tried riding with him right behind Zans, to see if a giant half-Fresian roadblock would help, but Panama walked almost right up his butt without showing any signs of stopping!

This was our first time out in the field, and I was pretty pleased with how well Panama did. He was a bit nervous about passing the junk pile on the back of the property, but pass it he did — the only reason I knew he was nervous was because of the way he was mincing his steps when he looked at it. I walked him past it, turned him in a circle toward it so he could look again, and halted him. He was completely relaxed now (apparently it was only a momentary concern), so we continued on.

In fact, he was so good out in the field that I think I'm going to try to ride him out there by myself on a regular basis. I suspect it's close enough to the barn that he doesn't actually feel like he's leaving home. I'm glad that he and I don't have to learn the trails by ourselves, though — there will be plenty of boarders for us to ride with as the weather gets better. And that, of course, is the biggest pro of boarding at a busy barn: people to ride with.

One final tale of cuteness to leave you with before I end this post. For a while yesterday, when PT was being ridden in the arena, she kept whinnying to the indoor barn (her home) every time she came around in her circle and could see it again. My trainer was working with her rider (another student of hers), and since Panama and I were done with our lesson, we stood in the middle and watched.

Then today, when I was riding Panama in the arena, he started whinnying to a horse who was turned out in the round pen in front of the indoor. I know he got it from watching PT yesterday, since he has never before whinnied while being ridden! It was thrilling, being on his back when he whinnied, because I could virtually feel the sound traveling through me. I don't know if he didn't realize he could until he saw PT doing it, or if he just hadn't thought of it; but whatever the reason, he clearly wanted to try it out for himself!

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

The perfect ride

Today was one of those perfect rides. Heck, it was a perfect day (in terms of the barn, I mean). It had to be one of the top five rides I've ever taken on Panama, right up there with some of the best trail rides we've ever been on. It was simply magical.

The thing is, we really didn't do that much. Most of what we did was walking, with a little bit of trotting in there. It was just really amazing walking!

I should have known immediately what kind of day it was going to be. I parked in front of Panama's corral as usual, and then went into the tack room to get his halter. When I came back out, he was standing right at the gate, clearly waiting for me. I put him in the cross ties and got to work grooming and tacking him up. He did everything I asked, when I asked and exactly how I asked.

(There was a little hiccup when I accidentally collapsed the wall-mounted saddle rack while putting the saddle on it. He cat jumped backwards in the cross ties and looked at me with alarm. I just laughed it off and banged it around some more, and he relaxed. He really does look to me for guidance, though — he was braced and all ready to pull back, just waiting to see whether I'd give him any indication he should.)

Although it was only about 28 degrees outside, in the indoor arena it was just barely warm enough to take off my jacket and ride in my sweatshirt and gloves. We shared the arena with one other horse and rider, one of the older women at the barn and her mare. I don't know if Panama it was the mare's influence, or if it's because I was chatting with her owner as we rode, but Panama was the most relaxed I've seen him in the indoor. He lowered his head, walked more slowly, and when we did trot, he kept a nice, even pace (something we have a hard time with in there). I was even able to give him more rein than usual without him constantly trying to speed up. He also responded very well to my leg yields, with very few instances of confusing it as a request to trot. Whatever I thought, he did; wherever I thought, he went.

We rode for quite a while — about an hour — and although he jumped a couple of times in the beginning, he relaxed quite a bit for most of the ride. The real indication of how good he was being was when someone brought their horse in to be lunged toward the end of our ride; although she (a 4-year-old mare Panama likes very much) was really quite out of control, Panama stood quietly and watched her gymnastics without getting all worked up himself.

After our ride, I took Panama back to the cross ties, unsaddled him, and put him in his cooler — even though he wasn't all that hot, I had to go back to the indoor to go to the bathroom, and I figured it was a good excuse to take him along. I put him in the indoor cross ties (right across the hall from the bathroom) and when I came back out again, he was still standing patiently, waiting for me. He greeted me with a happy little nicker when he saw me, but he had clearly not been shuffling nervously while I was out of sight, as he sometimes does in there.

I took him back to "his" cross ties, exchanged his cooler for his blanket (snowy and cold today), and finally put him back in his corral. It was one of those days when he just didn't want me to leave — he stood at the fence and watched me while I finished cleaning up, nickering when I walked toward him to say goodbye.

It was a simply magical day, and was very satisfying for me after all my anxiety yesterday. I only hope we can be that relaxed and in tune with one another for our lesson tomorrow!

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Buddy bound

Last night, Michael and I were hanging out at a local bookstore, and I was flipping through a book by Cherry Hill: How to Think Like a Horse. (I love Cherry Hill's books — this one didn't seem like one I needed to buy, but I'm checking it out from the library to finish reading it.) At one point, Hill was describing the behavior a buddy-bound horse will exhibit — e.g., whinnying to his buddy on trail rides if he loses sight of them — and I thought, That's how Panama behaves toward ME.

He really does. Instead of running when I turn him out in the arena, he often wants to hang out with me, and will keep trying to come back to me until I let him. And if I leave him alone in the cross ties, he'll whinny to me, like he's asking where I am. (I always say something back to him, which probably also helps to encourage the behavior.)

Today I was telling my trainer about my "discovery," and she said she wasn't surprised. (She always calls him a mommy's boy.) Then she said, "Did they say how to fix it?"

I was a bit taken aback. I was actually proud that he is so bonded to me, and it even said in the book that the goal is to get your horse to bond to you instead of another horse, so that they'll trust you more on rides.

My trainer, however, seems to think that Panama isn't trusting us enough. Today she was desensitizing him to her coat, throwing it over his head to cover his eyes. She told me she wants me to work with him with a coat every day, and not say anything to him while I'm doing it, or even laugh. But while she was working with him, he freaked out and actually knocked her down in order to run away from it. It was agonizing to watch — I know how attuned Panama is to my voice, and I could actually feel how much he wanted some verbal reassurance. But she withheld the praise until the very end, so that for a while all he got was snapped at when he wasn't doing it right.

I sensed that my trainer was short on patience today, when she rode as well as during the coat incident, and as a result it was a very frustrating session for me as an observer. I feel that Panama doesn't have enough experience yet to automatically trust us on everything, especially when something is unfamiliar; he still needs to be able to investigate something new, at first as well as periodically while you are working with him on it. She wasn't letting him do that today, though, and I was a bit bothered — especially since I normally encourage his curiosity by always giving him a chance to check something out, and praising him when I can tell he is overcoming his fear in order to do so.

My trainer also told me she wants Panama to be a little afraid of us. She says he acts too much like he thinks he's a person, because of the way he'll follow me around I guess, and seems to think that's a bad thing for getting him to listen. I'm not so sure I agree — just because he is bonded to me doesn't mean he doesn't know when to listen.

Any of you who have read my blog for a while know that I think very highly of my trainer. She has been with us since the very beginning; she was the one who started Panama under saddle. But after today I started thinking about it, and I feel like she has been less patient with him at times lately. I also worry that she is expecting more than she should of him. Four and a half is still a baby in so many ways, and I don't expect him to be okay with having his head covered for the very first time at this age. That isn't an issue of trust, but of experience.

I'm undecided what to do right now. I could wait and see how the next few sessions go before I say anything, and see if perhaps today was just a bad day. I could also cut back to just a lesson a week, instead of both a lesson and a training session, so that I would be riding him almost exclusively again. I'm a bit worried about talking to her yet, though, in case it was just a bad day for her.

What strikes me is that it wasn't a bad day for Panama. He was being exceptionally demonstrative, and was obviously very happy to spend time with me (I hadn't been there since Sunday). Even after my trainer rode him, I hopped on him bareback just to test his temperament, and he was in a fine mood — quite chipper, actually. I'm anxious for tomorrow, so that I can ride him myself and see how he does.

In the meantime, I have a lot to think about. What are your thoughts on the matter?

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Jane's story: My First Love

I've been reading Jane's blog for some time now, ever since I met her through another book giveaway. I've heard a lot about her current horse, Gilly, but I'd never heard about her "first love."

This is the last of the stories I received about horses that touched the author's life in some way. I hope you enjoyed all the stories as much as I did!

My First Love

Jane on Trigger, 1967

The first horse, my first love, was one my dad bought for me when I was 9 years old. My mother had died the year before and my dad was going out west to look for work. I was to stay with my aunt, my dad’s older sister, on a farm. I think he got me the horse to help me get over the loss of my mother and him going away for awhile.

I loved that horse with everything I had in me, I had loved horses since the first one I ever remember seeing at age 3. Old Prince, our neighbors big sorrel work horse; I saw him every day, a big red gentle giant.

I had Trigger for 11 years, my best friend whose velvety red ears knew all my secrets, a snow white mane that dried all my tears and a strong back that carried through those hard years. You see my father died 6 months after he had gotten me Trigger. That beloved horse carried me through a lot of sorrow in my early life and I will always be grateful to him for that.

I sold Trigger when I went away from home and no longer had a way to care for him. He went to a wonderful home to a girl of 12, who loved him as much as I did. I kept in touch with the people who bought him and went to see him when he was 17 years old. My daughter, who was two at the time, got to sit on his back. A year later, Trigger passed away. They found him in the field and don’t know what happened. He is buried on that farm, but he lived on in my heart as a horse that helped heal the pain of childhood.


Trigger at age 17

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Sydney's story: Horsaii

The next story talks about the author's earliest memories of horses. Sydney has an excellent blog called Bitless Horse: Science VS Tradition. She also makes gorgeous horse hair jewelry at very fair prices — wow!

Horsaii

There are some of us that are born with a desire to break the bank, spend endless hours in the worst weather conditions, forget sleep and most of all ourselves for a chance to be with horses. There are those that grow out of it and those that never think of anything else but horses.

I recall the first time I saw a real horse that I can remember. I am sure there were times before this but none as vivid as this one...

To read the rest of Sydney's story, click here.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Windy weather!

Today has been incredibly, insanely windy. Luckily, that meant when Michael and I went to the barn just before lunchtime, it wasn't very busy. On the down side, though, it also meant that when I rode Panama in the indoor, we had a lot to work through.

I have to admit, it was nice having the indoor arena, where we could get out of the wind. That's half the reason I rode — it was too cold and windy outside to do anything else. But Panama was quite anxious about the sound of the wind against the walls, and I don't blame him — if I didn't know better, I would have thought the wind was going to blow the building down around us, too.

On top of the wind, one of the guys who does a lot of work around the barn decided to water down the footing (which gets very dusty if it's not kept damp) while I and one other rider were in the arena. The other rider, who (as I understand it) took a bad fall a year or two ago, and is just now riding starting to ride again, quickly gave up trying to ride. Between the wind and the hose-wielding man walking around the arena, she was too worried about what her mare would do.

I stuck with it. I did make some concessions — I gave up trying to make Panama stand by the mounting block so I could mount, because every time I got him into position, the wind would throw sand against the side of the building and Panama would dance away from me again. So I let Michael hold his reins while I mounted from the ground.

I wanted to just get up because, despite my falls, I am starting to feel more in control on his back than I am on the ground. Once I was on, I made him do circles, small figure 8s, turns on the forehand, etc. — anything to engage his brain and make him shift his focus to ME instead of the wind. It worked! He was still nervous, but he stopped seriously freaking out, and during our 30- or 40-minute ride, was able to gradually relax.

We didn't do anything other than walk today, since my trainer doesn't want us to let him trot until he's relaxed and focused, and by the time I really got him to that point I was ready to be done. Every time he would start walking with his head down, or standing nicely when I asked, the wind would pick up again and we'd have to start again.

The water also made him nervous. He didn't mind the hose — he stepped over it without any nervousness — but I could feel him tense up every time the guy would start spraying the water even the teeniest bit in our direction. And seeing the walls and footing splotched with water (which made everything darker) also concerned him — we had to investigate all four corners, and then work on walking through each one without shying away.

Finally he stopped spooking so much at the wind sounds, went into the corners without a problem, and adopted a more relaxed (although not completely relaxed) walk. Once I got a full lap around the arena in each direction with no incidents, I dismounted and called it a day.

I do regret not being able to spend much time with him other than the ride, as he seemed to want to spend time with me. It was just too windy for me. I'll have to be sure to make up for it tomorrow!

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Sally's story: Buck and Chester

The next horse story in the lineup is Sally's story of Buck and Chester. Although this story is about two different horses, they are irrevocably connected, as you will see. Be sure to also check out Sally's wonderful horse blog, Arab Crazy Family!

Buck and Chester

For as long as I can remember, I was horse crazy. When I was still very young, my parents lost their farm and we had to move into town. This turn of events did not help a young, horse-crazed girl. I substituted by playing "horse" almost constantly. I would run around the yard like a wild mustang, bolt around the park like a young colt in spring. When it was raining, I was inside playing with the endless collections of little plastic horses I had... I drove my parents crazy!

When I reached the tender age of thirteen, mom and dad finally had enough money for another farm. It was a much smaller farm at eight acres, but I began to clamor very LOUDLY for a real horse once we got moved. My mom promised that as soon as we got settled, we'd start looking. I started packing that very night.

We got moved, we got settled, the real horse didn't come. Mom said we just didn't have the money. I begged, bargained, pleaded, made outlandish promises, and finally — I cried. That broke my mother's heart, and we started looking right away. We looked far and wide, my mom had an idea of what was to be my first horse and she was not about to get me any horse that was not "safe."

Finally, after months of searching, my mom and dad bought me an old appaloosa/quarter horse cross named Buck. (I found out a few years ago they had to get a loan from the bank, sniff.) Buck was sent to us from heaven. I learned so much about life on the back of that horse. He listened to all the rants and tradgedies of a teenage girl's life and I believe he was truly happy.

I got older, and Buck got older. I got married, started a family and Buck stayed at my old home. My children learned to ride Buck. One night, my dad called me and said I better come out. Buck had a stroke — he was pushing thirty five by the vet's best guess, and we made the heartbreaking decision to end his suffering.

Something hardened in me that night. The loss was unbearable. I cried for weeks, and my whole life seemed to go into limbo. I was finally able to let go of "home" and my husband and I moved our family hours away. I don't think I ever realized just how much that one death affected me. It was like life had lost its luster. Oh, I still had the job, the family, the whole life, but something was missing.

I changed jobs, and then I met Dian. She saw a necklace I had on one night (a horse) and started telling me about her horses. She said it would be just great to bring the kids out and let them pet on her horses. I refrained — I just did not want to go through that ever again — no more horses.

Then, for some reason, I relented. We went over to "pet" the horses. Something happened that day. There was this yearling grey stud colt that stayed back from the other horses. When he steped forward, my whole entire world fell apart — or together. I said "Who is THAT?!" Dian said "That's Chester."

She told me all the names, but the only horse I remember, or even cared, about was Chester. I went home and could think of nothing but Chester. I told my husband I had to have that horse. Arguements followed. We can not afford a horse. Where will we keep a horse? How will you have time to take card of a horse?!

In the mean time, I told Dian that somehow, some way, I wanted Chester. I signed up for all the overtime I could get. Dian worked out a payment plan with me. When I couldn't find a place to keep him, she worked out a boarding agreement with me. Hubby argued with me, I argued with hubby. I started working with Chester every day. He had really been one of D's that got left out a little, so he was behind on how wonderful people can really be.

Changes started, little by little. Chester began to look for me. Happiness came back to my life. Everyone, especially my hubby and kids noticed. He would say "How come you never got up early before?" I would say "There wasn't a Chester." He went through some stages, some adjusting to my radical changes, and I guess he finally decided that this change was a good change and for my birthday he paid Chester off!

I can not begin to explain how that one horse has saved my life. I look forward to getting out of bed, my children have a better mother, my husband has a better wife. Sparkles and dreams have crept back into my mind — I can't wait for the days when Chester and I hit the trails. I love that my whole family loves horses. Life has a new jingle and Chester hears it too!

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Friends make horses (more) fun

For the first time in a while, I have friends at the barn with whom I can share my hobby.

Yesterday, I met Voodoo's mom out at the barn in the morning, and we let them play together for a while. Then she lunged him in the arena, while I hopped on Panama and rode bareback for a little while at the other end. It was a nice, companionable way to spend a morning at the barn.

Voodoo's mom is seven months pregnant right now, so it'll be a couple of months until she is able to ride again. I'm looking forward to having someone to trail ride with in the summer. I've also made other friends at the barn with whom I should be able to ride when the weather warms up and the trails dry out, but it's Voodoo's mom I look forward to riding with the most.

It's so nice to have horsey friends at the barn — something I really missed at the private residence where I used to board!

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Theresa's story:An ordinary little brown mare

As promised, as a follow-up to Berte's story yesterday, here is Theresa's story of the brown mare named Prissy. Theresa's blog is Always Rushing Around, and is more than just a horse blog — she also has two adorable little girls she blogs about!

My Little Brown Mare



Flashy she was not. She stood about 14.2 hands, not very tall. She was sorrel. She was registered as a red dun, but that was a stretch. She was just brown. Aside from a few stray hairs in the middle of her forehead she didn't have a white hair on her body. Her mane was always thin and she didn't have much of a forelock to speak of. In so many ways she was nothing but an ordinary little brown mare. But I knew her better. I want to talk about my little brown mare.

My mom tells me that she saw Prissy acting like a fool out in the pasture and decided that she was the one she had to have. So she bought her for $500 on April 25, 1987. I was eight years old. Prissy was not yet broke when my parents brought her home. You couldn't even get a halter on her. I can remember my mom sitting in the stall with Prissy with a bucket of food just waiting patiently until Prissy decided to come to her. Mom would later send Prissy to a trainer who had her for a minimal amount of time. When he returned her he said, "She never even bucked. I just got on her and started riding."

To read the rest of the story of Prissy and Theresa, click here.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Berte's story: Saying goodbye to Prissy

I'll start with the very first person to email me her horse story: Berte of RiverBend Farm. She sent me her story, which is also on her blog:

Goodbye Ol' Girl



This is a very hard post for me to write as it has been a very hard week. Today we said goodbye to Prissy.

As you might have read in my original post, horses have always been a love in my life since I was a little girl. On April 25, 1987, entered Prissy, a young 13 month old that had my heart the minute I saw her raise her head out of a herd and rear up as if to say "just come see if you can catch me". Little did I know at that time, how many hearts this amazing horse would touch and the effects she would have on our lives.

To read the rest of Berte's post about Prissy, click here. Try to use restraint and don't click over to Theresa's story just yet, though, as that happens to be tomorrow's story!

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Hokey pokey

My leg is slowly improving, and I now have more mobility than I had a few days ago. This means I can get around better and faster (which makes Panama happy, as he was quite impatient with my slow hobble).

I had a lesson yesterday and although I didn't ride long or do much (posting still fatigues me, and leg yielding with the left leg while posting is challenging), I had a major light bulb moment.

My trainer has been having me work on spiralling Panama in and out. Part of this is to get him better at leg yields, since he tends to interpret every touch to his side as a cue to speed up. Part of this is also to get me better at leg yields, of course, and it turns out I needed it more than I thought.

My light bulb moment came when I realized I was using WAY too much inside leg when we were spiralling in. My trainer kept telling me not to let him drop his shoulder in, so I was essentially trying to hold him up with my inside leg. Silly me! Turns out he was dropping his shoulder in because of how much inside leg I was using, as he straightened right up as soon as I stopped. Duh.

A while back, Nuzzling Muzzles posted about a Clinton Anderson clinic she attended. She mentioned something about how any time you are working with your horse, you really have two horses, one for each side, since once you have them switch directions it's all new again.

I think the same might apply to me. I can't believe how hard of a time I have remembering which is my right leg and which is my left when I'm riding and my trainer is calling out instructions. If you watched my lessons, you'd probably hear this sort of thing at least once in each lesson:

"A little more left leg. Left leg! No, your OTHER left!"

When you think about it, Panama really is a trooper to put up with a novice rider when he's still learning himself. In fact, I think it probably says a lot about his intelligence and temperament that he hasn't gone batshit crazy by now.

I do have an easier time if my trainer says "inside leg" or "outside leg," but sometimes of course that isn't possible, such as when she's having me work on my cues in a serpentine.

Does anyone else have this problem?

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Book drawing contest winner!

First of all, I'd like to thank everyone for being patient. I was supposed to post the winner of my horse book giveaway nearly a week ago, but between everything going on currently in my life — from sick pets to my knee injury to a bunch of client deadlines, I haven't had a chance to blog, much less do the drawing.

Today I finally was able to make the time, though. Before I announce the winner, I'd like to thank Berte, Theresa, Sally, Sydney, and Jane for sending in their horse stories. I'll be sharing one every day, in the order I received them, starting tomorrow. A few stories are copied from the person's blog, so in that case I'll post an excerpt with a link to the page where you can read the rest.

Finally, the big announcement: the winner of the book giveaway. Drum roll, please...

Theresa Rushing is the winner of my book giveaway for the book Horse Crazy. This might come as a surprise to her, since her mom entered her into the contest! In any case, congratulations, Theresa!

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Curiouser and curiouser

I spent a good five hours or more at the barn today. It was gorgeous weather, and although initially I wasn't going to ride, even after I put him away Panama kept watching me with his head up and his ears forward, as if expecting that I would ride him. And when I walked over to him, he nickered to me. That settled it — I saddled him up and we went for a ride.

We didn't ride long, and we mostly just walked. Posting fatigued my knee pretty quickly, and anyway my trainer still wants us to do lots of walking in the indoor, until Panama settles down a bit more in there. He did well, though — we worked on leg yields and spirals until he started responding to leg pressure without trying to trot at the same time.

When I returned him to his corral after our ride, the barn crew was in there with the tractor, truck, and manure trailer, cleaning out the corral. They were able to keep the gate open for the truck to go in and out with loads of manure, and the two older horses just stood toward the back of the corral without trying to make a break for it. I tried to take Panama over with the older two and unhalter him, but he wanted to follow me back out the gate, so I had to shut it.

Once his escape route was cut off, Panama amused himself by watching the tractor. The older two horses stayed far away, but Panama would come quite close and watch, sometimes only five or six feet away. He did run away a couple of times — when the tractor dumped a load into the trailer and he was standing just on the other side sniffing the trailer, and also when the driver drove the tractor right at him — but even then not until she was just a couple feet away. Both times, he wheeled around and pranced off with his tail flagged, so I don't think he was terribly frightened, just having fun — like a teenager looking for an adrenaline rush!

I wish I'd had my camera with me, as he was so cute the way he'd stare at the tractor with his ears forward. I love how curious he is — if only he had the same confidence under saddle!

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Recovery time

On Thursday's post about my dumbest fall ever, Nuzzling Muzzles commented that it wasn't falling she feared, but the recovery time.

Ain't that the truth. I took 3 Motrin Thursday afternoon, 3 more Friday morning after I nearly passed out shortly after I got out of bed, and 3 late last night to get me through the end of the day. (I'd been doing pretty well for most of the day, but toward the end of the night my leg started getting very fatigued.)

Forty-eight hours after my fall, I'm in considerably less pain — no Motrin at all today — but my knee is feeling pretty stiff. Also my left leg seems to have forgotten how to move naturally when I walk, so I end up moving like I'm lugging around a wooden leg. We've been out and about a lot today, and I'm extremely self conscious about how I must look.

With any luck, though, it'll continue improving quickly. At this rate I think I should have some more mobility back tomorrow. I'll be looking forward to it!

In other updates, I think my cat — who had started eating again briefly — is once again not eating on his own. And one of our dogs is having some recurring bowel problems; we took her to the vet again today. One of my mom's cats is sick too, and I spent an hour or two with her in the kitty emergency room late last night. Amazing how it all happens at once, isn't it?

All this to say that although quite a few of you have sent in wonderful, moving horse stories, I didn't do the drawing for the book last night, as I'd planned. It's now looking like I won't get to it until tomorrow, so look for an announcement of the winner then!

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

One for the storybooks...

Snuggling with my sleepy horse

When I got out to the barn this afternoon, Panama was lying down, sunbathing. I went over and sat on him, snuggled a bit, and took the above picture. See the sleepy eyes?

I was still sitting on him when suddenly he decided to get up. I decided to just grab mane and hang on. Feeling him get up underneath me was amazing! It was fun... until I fell off.

Once Panama was standing, he decided to start walking. That's when I realized I had no brakes. Oops. I hadn't thought that through very well.

He walked. I said, "Whoa." He started running. I fell off. The end.

Of course, I jumped right back up (I always do) to discover myself covered in poop. Lucky me — I'd fallen in a mixture of mud and poop, made nice and soggy by the melting snow. I called to Panama, and he came trotting back over to me with some major pep in his step. I could just see what he was thinking...

"What are you doing all the way over there, Mom? What happened? I thought we were going for a run!"

I walked up to him and leaned against his chest and shoulder. My left knee was shaking, and I realized I'd done something to it, probably sprained it. No matter! I haltered Panama anyway, took him into the cross ties, tacked him up, and took him into the indoor arena for a short ride that didn't involve me falling off.

Interestingly, my knee didn't hurt at all while I was on his back. It definitely hurts now, though! I took a hot bath, and now I'm sitting on the couch with my leg up and a bag of frozen peas on my knee. It's a funny story about falling, but I have a feeling I'll find it considerably funnier when I'm not hurting anymore.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A few updates

Horse

A busy week so far. Although I had my trainer out twice this week — once to ride Panama, and once to give me a lesson — I haven't had time to blog about it. I'll try to catch up, or at least get more regular, soon.

The good news is that my cat Prince started eating on his own last night — only a little, but it's a vast improvement, as I've been force feeding him for the past month! I had an ultrasound done on Monday, and the radiologist thinks he has had pancreatitis, as well as either irritable bowel syndrome or lymphoma. She's leaning more toward the IBS, and for obvious reasons I'm hoping she's right. Either way, Prince is now on steroids, and I think that's why he started eating again.

Also, don't forget that my book giveaway ends Friday at 5:00 pm! I've gotten some great horse stories already, but I would love to get a few more, so please consider entering!

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Saturday, January 9, 2010

Panama gets a taste of jumping

During my lesson yesterday, Panama got his first taste of jumping.

In addition to my lesson, my trainer exercised two horses yesterday, one before my lesson and one after. She had a low cross rail jump set up for the first horse, which she left out for Panama, so when my blood sugar crashed and I was unable to ride, she messed around with Panama a little bit.

Most of it was desensitization work, as Panama is still anxious in the indoor arena. There has been a hula hoop sitting off to the side in there lately, and so sometimes she picks it up and messes with him a little. The first time she ever did that, he was a bit startled when she produced a bright shiny hoop seemingly out of thin air, but she plunked it over his head and around his neck and he just stood there, surprised but in control of himself.

The second time she ever messed with the hula hoop, she hooked it over the back of the saddle and around his rump. He's small enough that it goes right down underneath his butt, and rests against the back of his legs, which scares him. He was a complete wreck at first, but eventually he calmed down.

Yesterday she did the same thing, just a little more persistently, so it took him a little while longer to relax. But he did, and now I am the proud owner of a circus pony prospect! Heh.

My trainer also walked him around the arena in general, including over the jump. As you might expect, he stalled the first time and stared at it hard, like he was trying to figure out what it was. But very quickly he followed her over, first at a walk, and then at a trot. My blood sugar still wouldn't come up, so eventually she got up on him and rode him over the jump a few times — again, first walking, and then trotting.

She wasn't pushing him or anything, because obviously he hasn't jumped before, and the jump was low enough that he could step over it if he was careful about it. He especially liked trotting up to it and jumping, though, and you could see him going through the process of learning how to pick up his feet.

Once I started feeling better, I mounted and rode for a bit. She told me just to walk him around for a while, because we're still working on him relaxing at the walk in the indoor. Technically our lesson was over, so she went and got the other horse she was riding — Voodoo, Panama's playmate — and we rode the two of them together in the arena for a little while.

My trainer had me ride Panama over the jump a few times at the walk, and I quickly found that he really liked it and wanted to continue doing it. In fact, he wanted to trot, and probably would have quite happily jumped it for me too had I known what I was doing.

I've always suspected that Panama would be good at jumping — a couple of years ago he actually jumped the 4-foot fence around his run virtually from a standstill — and since he prefers a challenge, I've often thought he'd like it, too. When I've asked my trainer about it, she has indicated that we'll probably be able to start teaching him to jump in the spring. (Whether or not I'll be ready by then I don't know, but I'll still be quite happy to watch her jump him.) Yesterday was just a taste of what's to come, since as my trainer said, he was jumping with absolutely no skill. But the fact that he was so interested indicates that I may have been right that he would like it!

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Baby it's cold outside!

Horse in a blanket

As I write this, it is about zero degrees outside, depending on what weather station you believe. This morning when my husband went to work, it was -12, and tonight it's supposed to get down to about -7. Hard to believe it was around 40 degrees just two days ago!

This storm has been more about the cold than the snow, although we did get a couple inches. I didn't get out to the barn yesterday, so although it was only 15 degrees today, I went and took off Panama's blanket and turned him out for a little bit.

Despite the cold, it was sunny and clear today, so when I arrived Panama was stubbornly sunbathing in his blanket. I put a hand underneath and found that he was warm, but not sweaty. I took off the blanket and turned him out in the arena, figuring he'd have some pent-up energy from spending yesterday's storm just standing around.

I was right! He quitely happily ran laps in the arena, tail curled over his back in the way that I love. He'd run and run and run, and then trot up to me and stand there with his neck over my shoulder, head high, blowing and snorting.

I let him run until he was just beginning to sweat, and then I took him indoors with the intention of walking him in the arena until he cooled down. Instead he balked at walking down the hall to the indoor, so by the time we worked through that, he was cool and dry again. I put the blanket back on him and put him away.

Tomorrow we have a lesson, so beforehand I will probably need to turn him out again — he was still pretty "up," even after today's run. He doesn't get much exercise, being corraled in the "old folks' home," as I like to call it, and it's especially bad when it snows — he doesn't like bad weather, so he tends to just stand around even more. It'll be good to ride tomorrow — I just hope he behaves himself, as we'll be riding indoors again!

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

When distractions AREN'T a good thing...

...meaning they are my distractions, not Panama's.

I've been very busy and worried lately. The cat I have now had for nearly 11 years has stopped eating for unknown reasons. Almost a month ago, I took him into the vet, and they weren't able to tell what was wrong, even after doing a blood panel. They cleaned his teeth and pulled two bad ones just before Christmas, but that didn't make him want to start eating again. Now I'm giving him Pepcid AC to see if it's an acidity problem (we noticed he is burping a lot), and he's going in for an ultrasound on Monday.

In the meantime, I'm force feeding him. My other cat had feline hepatic lipidosis a little over four years ago, so I am familiar with force feeding a cat — I had to force feed her for a month before she started eating on her own again. It's time consuming, though, and frustrating at times. I hope we can figure out what is wrong and get him eating on his own again!

Anyway, I'm sorry to say that this is starting to cut into my time with Panama. I've tried not to let it, but yesterday I didn't do anything with him at all (except for taking his blanket off) because I was so discouraged that Prince had thrown up his breakfast. Force feeding him 4 to 6 times a day makes it hard to get work done sometimes, too, which in turn makes it hard to spend time at the barn.

Tomorrow it probably won't be an issue, as we are supposed to get a lot of snow. Thursday will be only 15 degrees at best, which will make a trip to the barn unlikely but not impossible. (Thank heavens for full care!) Perhaps I can get caught up on work while I'm housebound, so that I can have more time with Panama (and Prince!) on Friday, when the weather is a little better!

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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Helmets are (almost) cool now

I read this article the other day: Helmets Becoming More Common on the Ski Slopes.

I had no idea helmets and safety were becoming more commonplace in skiing, too. When I was a kid, we rode our bikes, our horses, and yes, even skied bareheaded. These days you rarely see a kid on a bike without a helmet, even scooting around their own driveways. And apparently, although safety concerns aren't quite as far along among skiers (nearly half wear helmets, according to the article), helmets are definitely gaining in popularity.

When I read the article, I immediately thought of horseback riding. I've posted a few times about helmets — I've gone from being practically allergic to head protection, to wearing one most of the time. Periodically I forget when I go out for a lazy bareback ride, but I'm getting better — and my trainer (who is wearing one more often herself these days) is helping to remind me.

Helmet-wearing still isn't that popular, particularly among the middle-aged women who seem to make up the majority of boarders at my barn. Most of them ride bareheaded. I guess it's a hard habit to break, especially when you've grown up a certain way. Which is why I'm trying to change my ways now — someday I want it to be as natural for me as putting on a seat belt in the car (which I typically do even to fix a parking job, just by habit).

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Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Day cleaning and a horse book giveaway

On New Year's Day I decided to clean my desk. It has been a mess for months, and had foot-high stacks of papers piled up on it. I'm not sure yet if this is really a New Year's resolution, but I decided I wanted to at least start 2010 with my work space clean and organized.

When I cleaned my desk, I found this book lurking under some of my papers: Horse Crazy: Women and the Horses They Love. I decided this was a perfect opportunity for another book giveaway.

Only I'm going to make you earn it this time. Since the book is a collection of short essays about the horse(s) that have touched each woman's life, I'm asking all entrants to write me an email about a horse that has touched your life in some way. It doesn't have to be a horse you have now, or even one that you owned, and it doesn't have to be a long story. I'm not going to judge the stories — I'll choose the winner the usual way, by picking a name out of a hat — but I will post each story on my blog (in no particular order) with your byline and a link to your blog or website.

My email address (which I will take down after the contest ends) is writer at katharineswan.com (just replace the "at" with the ampersand symbol). Let's give everyone time to think about and write their emails — deadline is 5:00 pm mountain time on January 15th. I'll randomly select a winner that evening, and post one person's story every day starting on January 16th.

I'm looking forward to reading everybody's stories!

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Ringing in the New Year

Sitting on my horse when he's lying down

Michael and I celebrated New Year's with a small group of friends last night, but truthfully that wasn't the highlight of my night. The best part was a moment that Panama and I shared when I went out to blanket him around 7:30.

Imagine this: When I get there, the full moon is high in the eastern sky, bathing everything in a surprisingly bright glow. The one thing I don't see, though, is Panama.

I park at the west end of the corral and peek around the corner of the east-facing shed, and there he is, lying down, facing the moonlit corral. He doesn't get up while I slip through the fence, so I go and sit down on his back.

He is obviously very relaxed and has probably been napping, as his head is drooping and I can feel his breathing coming long and slow. It makes me want to relax with him, so I scoot back and lay forward, looking at the view from between his ears, and then burying my face in his mane.

That still doesn't feel relaxed enough for me, so I decide "What the hell," and sit in the dirt and manure between his front and back legs. I lean against his shoulder and run my hands all over him — up his neck, between his ears, over his nose and face, across his belly, and down his legs. With sleepy eyes, he permits it all, and even turns occasionally to put his nose in my lap. It's cold (25 degrees), but snuggled up with my horse, parts of me are warm enough that the rest of me can tolerate the chill.

After probably twenty minutes, he starts to lean back, like he wants to lay flat, and then seems to realize he can't without kicking me in the process. He moves his front foot out, which makes me think he might want to get up, so I stand. He doesn't get up, just puts his nose out and sniffs my crotch like a dog and then tucks his foot back under. I sit back down with him. We repeat this routine a couple of times before he finally gets up. I go to get his halter from the tack room and he peeks around the corner of the shed, like, "Where are you going?"

When I come back, he is waiting for me at the gate. I call out to him, and he whinnies back to me. He is an angel while I blanket him, and when I return him to his corral, he watches me while I leave.

***

When I got home I changed out of my jeans (with the manure-soaked back pockets — nice) and we went over to a friend's house. But even though we were with our friends at midnight, to my mind I'd said goodbye to 2009 several hours earlier, in a moonlit corral with my horse against my back.

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