Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Don't think of a pink elephant

Did you ever play the game as a kid where someone said, "Don't think of a pink elephant," and try as you might, you suddenly couldn't get that Walt Disney-like creature out of your head?

That's how I feel about trying to relax when I ride.  My balance without stirrups is getting better, but I am still too stiff, and I don't need to have my trainer there to tell me that.  The problem is, how to fix the problem?  I can't think, Relax, because then I'm just forcibly putting my body into another shape.

I rode for perhaps 20 or 30 minutes yesterday without stirrups, both walking and trotting.  I even posted a little, and found that I could do it, even without stirrups — the motion is a little bouncier than I'd like, but I can, which delighted me.

My balance has improved a little, and I think Panama is starting to learn to slow his trot a little for me, although he's not consistent about it — he starts out fast, slows down, and then slows to a walk after only about half a lap around the arena at the slower trot.  I think he's trying to help me — either that or he's trying to help himself by ending the pathetic bouncing on his back.

(To give him more credit, he definitely is aware that I am not as secure without my stirrups.  He spooked a little bit yesterday at the sound when I unexpectedly opened one of the Velcro-closure pockets on my saddle pad, but instead of shying or running off, he caught himself in the middle of his takeoff, did this silly mincing trot for a few steps, and then stopped.)

Although my balance is improving, I am still fighting the tendency to lean forward.  Sadly, I am apparently doing enough of that to get good at leaning forward (and keeping my balance) without stirrups.  Is it possible to learn the wrong lesson by riding without stirrups, I wonder?

I know, I know, it's only the second day.  I'll get better with time, I'm sure.  I just wish that time would hurry up a little!

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Somebody stole my stirrups!

Something looks wrong with my saddle...

English saddle without stirrups

Hey!  Where did my stirrups go?

Don't look at me.  I didn't take them.

My horse

They're not in my trainer's car...



Found 'em!

English stirrups

Yep, my trainer finally took my stirrups away from me, about halfway through today's lesson.  Of course once I realized she'd hidden them somewhere on the premises while I was still riding, it took me about two minutes to find them.  I still plan to be good and ride without stirrups, though, so when she reads this and finds out that I know where they are, she doesn't need to take them home with her after all. Ahem.

She said to be nice to her on my blog, and that if I say she's mean she's going to tell everyone how bad a rider I am how necessary this was.  She also said I need to be more positive, so instead of complaining about how I'm never going to learn to do this right, I'll look forward to earning my stirrups back by the time I'm 50.

My legs are a bit sore tonight, especially since I rode for a bit longer after the lesson ended.  I plan on riding some more tomorrow, and with any luck we'll be swimming again on Wednesday.  My legs are sure going to be sore by the end of the week!

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

More on my project colt

Yesterday we got Rondo the colt's back two hooves trimmed.  The farrier said they weren't as bad as we thought — he only had to rasp them a little bit.  He also cleaned up his front two feet, which still showed some chipping from how overgrown they had been.

We discovered something interesting about Rondo, but it makes perfect sense: He is afraid of tall people.  I can walk up to his head, shoulder, or sides now without causing him any concern, but he kept dodging the farrier, running around me in circles and even rearing up a little.  The behavior almost entirely stopped when the farrier ducked down a little to approach him.  Of course, my mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and I are all about the same size — I'm 5'4" — so he hasn't really been handled by anyone tall until now (my farrier is over 6 feet tall).

Anyway, his feet will still need some work over time, as the front hooves had chipped pretty short, and I think they look a bit too upright as a result. But with his feet looking a little better, I decided to get some conformation pictures so we can start looking for a home for him.

This was easier said than done.  He likes to be close, and was having a hard time understanding that I wanted him to stay where he was while I backed up out of the picture.  Asking him not to move his feet only confused him, and resulted in a lot of pictures like this one, with him leaning towards me.

Rescue colt

I like how he's standing in the next picture, but I don't like having me (and another horse) half-hidden behind him.  What do you think?  Too unprofessional for a for-sale flyer, or is it excusable if it shows his conformation nicely?

Rescue colt

This is the best photo without me in it, but as you can see, we've got the confused, "You want me to stand where?" look going on.

Rescue colt

Which photo do you think I should use for a for-sale flyer?  Also, what do you think of his conformation?  He looks long in the pasterns to me, which my farrier confirmed, but I think he'll make someone a good riding horse someday.  Keep in mind, of course, that he still has a lot of growing to do — he isn't yet a year and a half old.

Capturing his true color on camera is difficult, and the above photos — taken with my Nikon point-and-shoot — are the best we got.  He actually has much more roaning than this in person, but the pictures make him look more brown than white.  The iPhone (the next two pictures) is even worse at picking it up.

After the photo shoot, Rondo decided it was high time he had some grain.  Who says horses can't talk?  The message here is pretty obvious to me!

Rescue colt

The less afraid of people he becomes, the more his personality comes out.  He is really starting to enjoy human interaction, and often nickers at me when I approach.  He is also starting to show some playfulness and mouthiness, such as taking the rope in his mouth when I have him on a lead, as if he is going to walk himself.

Who would have thought that wild, scared colt would be so obviously asking for attention just over a month later?

Rescue colt

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Improving posture

My neck is stiff from falling yesterday, and I have a busy day ahead of me, so I don't think I'll be able to get out to the barn today. In the meantime, though, I found an article on improving your posture that I hope will help me while riding, too.

Checking your reflection periodically to be sure you aren't slouching is great advice, and will easily translate to riding when I ride in the indoor arena, where there are mirrors on the wall. The rest of the tips I will have to apply to my non-riding life, and hope that a straighter back will follow me onto the horse.

My problems with posture don't occur so much when I'm standing, as when I'm sitting, so I like tip number two. I think that's how I've gotten so bad — sitting at my computer all day. I'll have to see if I can find a way to remedy my sitting posture while I work.

Which of these tips do you find most useful? Do you have to remind yourself not to slouch when you ride, too?

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Swimming, and falling

Today was not such a successful day for swimming. Part of it may have been that a storm was coming in, and the horses sensed it before we did — I knew there was a possibility of thunderstorms, but I was hoping the weather wouldn't turn until after we finished swimming. No such luck!

Unlike last time, when he was the first one in the water, this time he was more or less refusing to get in.

Horses on the beach

I could feel that he was somewhat tense and jittery.

Riding bareback on the beach

Lily, one of the other horses, was reluctant to get in at first too, but came around much faster than last week.

Riding bareback on the  beach

My trainer, of course, had no problem whatsoever getting her horse to take the plunge!

Swimming with horses

Even with Siren's good example, though, Panama wasn't having any of it. After trying for several minutes to get him into the water, with no luck, I dismounted and waded in with him. That worked much better.

Swimming with horses

He played a little...

Swimming with horses

...and eventually got pretty far in with me.

Swimming with horses

I decided to try to get on, and my trainer gave me a leg up. Before I had a chance to get settled and find my balance, though, Panama started hustling out of the water. I think he was startled by how wet and cold I was on his back — he's not a fan of cold water, and the water was cold today!

Anyway, he was propelling himself hard with his back legs to get free of a squishy section of sand, and by the time he hit the beach he was starting to canter. Not having had my balance yet in the first place, there was no hope for me, and I hit the ground. The beach is rather rocky, so I knocked up my left knee and right thigh pretty good, but other than some bruising, I'm okay.

I didn't try getting on again after that, but we did do some more wading together. I forgave him for being a wing nut.

Swimming with horses

We waded in pretty deep together! There is something rather odd about feeling your underwear becoming saturated with cold lake water.

Swimming with horses

Shortly after this picture, the wind really started picking up, so we left the beach. Panama was a mess, jigging and practically dragging me up the hill, until we passed the other horses and were in front. Once there, he was able to calm down, although he was still very alert. It amuses me how scared he seems to be of being left behind, when it doesn't seem to bother him a bit to leave all the other horses behind.

I hope we get another chance to go swimming in good weather this year, because I don't want this to be Panama's last experience with swimming until next season. In the meantime, though, I'll be working on my canter and riding bareback — indoors, of course, where there will be no surprises!

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

My horse smells like skunk

I got out to the barn this afternoon for a rather unpleasant surprise: a skunky-smelling horse. I don't think he was sprayed directly — it's not quite that strong — but since the smell is strongest around his muzzle, I'm guessing he went sniffing where a skunk had sprayed!

Despite the smell, we had a pretty good day! I met Spaghetti's owner at the barn, and we turned our horses out together. Panama was pretty fired up, and kept trying to make Spaghetti run, even after Spaghetti had had enough. (Whether it's because of Panama's Arab blood or the fact that he is in better shape, he has a lot more energy than poor Spaghetti.)

It started raining while we had the horses turned out, so we got tacked up and headed in to the indoor arena. Unfortunately, Spaghetti refused to walk in, either down the hall (where Panama used to be afraid to go) or through the door from the outside, until his owner finally produced a treat as bribery.

The ride itself went well. We trotted a bit in each direction, usually with Spaghetti right behind us — Spaghetti lacks get-up-and-go, so his rider likes to follow me and Panama as incentive to get Spaghetti moving!

We had another rider in the arena with us, so for a while I didn't feel comfortable cantering. As we all fell into a rhythm, though, I decided to canter a little. We cantered twice to the right, Panama's worse side. (Lazy little Spaghetti just kept up as best he could at the trot.) I can definitely feel the difference when I canter him in the indoor arena — his speed is better regulated, and with less of his issues to worry about, I felt tonight like I was able to do a better job of keeping my shoulders back and moving with the motion of the horse.

I think a lot of the issues I was having outside during last week's lesson have to do with how different Panama is when I ride him outside. He is much faster, bracier, and more distracted, whereas inside those problems almost completely go away. I know he needs the practice outside, but I wonder if I shouldn't focus on riding inside until I am a little more comfortable at the canter. Maybe then I'll be more able to control him when we move outside. What do you think?

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Bad Horse Day, part 2

After riding Panama yesterday, Michael and I went down to his family's house. I was looking forward to working with the colt after my discouraging ride on Panama, not yet realizing that this was Bad Horse Day, and the colt would be just as discouraging!

First things first, though: The colt has been renamed Rondo, as in Johnny Rondo, the cowboy. My mother-in-law didn't like the name Rodeo, although it had grown on me. The colt was responding to it, though, so on my suggestion she thought of a similar name.

In any case, Rondo was happy to see me, after a week and a half — but after a little while it became clear that he was having another pushy day. He was on top of me when I led him, fussed excessively about me asking for his back feet, was grabby with treats, and even pinned his ears a little a few times.

We worked for a bit on the hind feet, but didn't accomplish as much as I'd wanted. I also worked on him walking a space away from me when I led him, and stopping when I said whoa. This is all stuff that he usually does just fine, yet I was having a really difficult time getting him to do any of it last night! Eventually I settled for restoring some of his forgotten manners.

My mother-in-law decided that she wanted to try to desensitize him to fly spray, so we switched gears to do that. And oh, maybe we should have kept his name as Rodeo, because that was what we got! We let him sniff and see the bottle, and I sprayed it at the ground a few times to show him — but the first time I sprayed it at his chest and shoulder, he backed up and reared a little! I told him to quit, showed him the bottle again, sprayed it at the ground again, and then sprayed it at him again — same result. We repeated this a few times, until his rear got bigger.

Until this point, my mother-in-law had been trying to help hold him, which was actually sort of making it worse, because I had less control over what I was doing. When he reared bigger, she let go, but I didn't! I let some of the rope slip through my hands, then held on tight. He ran a little bit to the other side of the round pen, but still I hung on, and yelled at him to whoa. He immediately stopped and looked at me, so I praised him and reeled him back in, and went right back to working with the fly spray.

This time we had more success, probably partly because I brought out the treats. With a treat to look forward to, he stopped rearing, and eventually stopped jerking his head up. By the time I stopped, I could spray him several times in a row without him freaking out, even back on his belly and hindquarters (from my position at his head). He expected to be well compensated for it, but that's okay — the treats convinced him that I wasn't trying to kill him with the fly spray, so I can't complain!

It was a rough session with him too, which made me jokingly say to my mother-in-law that it was Bad Horse Day. I expect the wind had something to do with it, and they may have been still frazzled from two complete changes in weather in two days — from sunny and hot on Friday, to cooler and rather blustery on Saturday, to hot (but still windy) yesterday. Also, hormones may have had something to do with it, as Rondo needs to get cut — and soon!

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Bad Horse Day, part 1

I have decided to name yesterday Bad Horse Day.

It started with a ride on Panama. Michael and I went out to the barn around early afternoon, and I groomed Panama and saddled him up. Now I hadn't ridden since Thursday, but I wasn't expecting it to be a problem, since he was so good all last week.

Whether he could have benefited from turnout, or the wind just had him all fired up, or what, I don't know, but the ride didn't turn out like I'd planned.

My original agenda was to practice cantering, and we did get some good practice in. I sometimes feel that I get my shoulders back, heels down, and ride the canter without bouncing for a couple of strides — but then it all falls apart before I can figure out how I'm doing it!

Anyway, after cantering several laps to the left, I started cantering him to the right. As we were coming up on the gate, I saw him staring hard — in the "I'm about to spook at this" way — at the jump standards and poles stacked outside the arena just past the gate. Sure enough, a stride or two later he teleported to the side.

I had seen it coming, so I was more or less ready for it. (In the past, a sideways spook at the canter has usually removed me from the saddle.) Unfortunately, no sooner had he hit the ground again, than he started running away. My balance had wobbled when he blew to the side, and no sooner than I regained it was I fighting to regain it again — I clearly remember two separate times when I thought I was going to fall. And then I was fighting to stop him before we hit the rail, as he was running straight at the end of the arena, and didn't seem to know which way to turn.

I stayed on and got him stopped, though, despite the fact that I rode out most of that rodeo with a lost stirrup! We went right back to work, but this time at the trot — no way was I going to canter him again until I was sure he was back in control.

Unfortunately, that time never came. He spooked sideways again at the same spot, even at the trot. It was one of those really big spooks — the kind where they actually slap their hooves audibly on the ground before they launch themselves into the spook. Luckily he remembered himself right away that time and didn't try to run away, because somehow I managed to get the loop on the reins caught under my leg when we landed. Don't ask me how I managed that!

I spent the rest of the hour we rode just walking him around the arena, with varying degrees of spookiness by the scary spot. One of the jump standards was knocked over, and I started wondering if it had blown over while we were walking by, so I dismounted and we left the arena to fix it. He wasn't scared of them at all when we were outside the arena, or when we were moving in the other direction — it was only to the right, our worst side.

Finally, a horse Panama knows and likes came into the arena. I asked her rider to walk her by the jump standards so we could follow, and he could see that Pixie wasn't scared. That seemed to work. The first time he kept his distance but didn't try to shy away, and the second time he followed behind Pixie at the rail. We had been riding a while at that point, so I called it a day!

This post ended up being longer than planned, so I'll finish the story of Bad Horse Day later today!

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Mounting bareback

I need to learn to do this!



It looks so easy when she does it, doesn't it?

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Glucosamine doesn't work!

I won't be able to get out to the barn to ride after all today, so in lieu of a post on my progress cantering, I thought I'd share this interesting article with you: about a new study on humans that shows glucosamine and chondroitin don't help arthritis pain. The same probably applies to animals, so I thought the horse world ought to take note.

This is actually not new information, even thought the study is new. Our white shepherd, Grace, has hip dysplasia, and when we first got her we were giving her glucosamine and chondroitin to try to help her out. We had to stop giving it to her when it started giving her the runs, but we discovered that it really hadn't made a difference, anyway.

I did some research around that time, and what I found indicated that glucosamine and chondroitin don't actually do any good. The idea is that the supplement provides the building blocks for the cushiony material in the joints, providing relief from the conditions causing the pain. Unfortunately, the reality is that the body cannot replace that layer in the joints, building blocks or no. Once it's gone, it's gone.

So I'm not terribly surprised about this finding. I've read a lot that indicates supplements are mostly just a modern version of snake oil, loosely based on inconclusive research that the companies take and twist to convince people to buy their products. Sometimes supplements don't work because whatever it is that is beneficial is found in the food as a whole. Most of the time the body just can't absorb the pills. And of course, in the case of glucosamine, it doesn't work because there is simply no way that it can work.

I know that there are a lot of die hard supplement fans out there. But I encourage you to look up the research that made the industry start manufacturing the various supplements you take — or give your animals. Often the research isn't conclusive. Part of it is the fault of journalists, who tend to announce preliminary findings or incorrectly report findings they don't understand, and part of it is that the supplement industry is over-eager to exploit new findings in any way that they can!

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Cantering catastrophe

Yesterday I got an ugly look at what I'm doing wrong at the canter. I think this picture sums it up pretty clearly:

Cantering BADLY

I'm having problems keeping my heels down, and I am hunching my shoulders BIG TIME in a misguided attempt to sit deeper. My trainer is trying to get me to sit tall with my shoulders back and my hips rotated so that I can move with the horse. She calls it "sticking out the goods" or something like that — boobs out, butt out.

She took some video, too, but it looks so bad I didn't even have the heart to post it!

I couldn't ride today because a trip to the eye doctor robbed me of my vision for most of the day (I hate having my eyes dilated!), but I'll bet you can guess what is on the agenda for tomorrow... Practice, practice, practice!

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Swimming with the horses!

Actually, it ended up being more like wading, as we didn't go out far enough to actually swim. This is the lake where we swam — it's a short walk down the road, then down a short trail to the beach:

Taking the horses to the beach

Panama was pretty excited about it, and was the first one into the water. This surprised me a little, since even though he does stream crossings on the trail all the time, he doesn't like to be first. But the water was clear and not rushing, so maybe it helped that he was able to see the bottom (where there wasn't a ton of algae on the surface, that is).

Bareback riding on the beach

Panama went in pretty deep (for him) with very little encouragement from me. He went in deep enough to get the underside of his belly wet. He also copied my trainer's horse, who liked playing in the water, pawing and splashing. But after doing this for about 15 minutes, Panama decided he'd had enough, and started refusing to go in.

Bareback riding in the lake

After about ten minutes of fussing, I did get him in again, but he wouldn't go as deep as he had before. We took these pictures around that time, which is why he isn't in very far in any of them.

Swimming with the horses

Please excuse my poor posture in these pictures. I was pretty relaxed and just letting him poke around in the water. Oh, and please excuse my white legs, too! Can you tell that almost the only time I see the sun is out at the barn, when I'm wearing jeans?

Swimming with my horse

When Panama hit his block and stopped wanting to go in the water, we did have one slightly alarming, but totally funny, incident. Without the water to focus on anymore, he started looking into the grass and trees surrounding the beach, and I could feel that he was getting tense. Then he started snorting at the dead plant life that had washed up on the beach — as if it hadn't been there the whole time!

Finally, he tried to pick up a big stick that was stuck in the sand. When he bit down on the stick and it shifted everything around it, he scared himself, and jumped to the side. I came right off — as I knew I would if he spooked — but I landed on one foot and kept my balance. My trainer said she heard me say, "Oops!" and turned around to see me with one leg still in the air!

I was barefoot and the beach was rocky, but I don't remember it hurting me. Panama stopped only about 10 feet away, so I went over and grabbed his reins, and used the opportunity to lead him into the water. It was after that that we took these pictures, except for the first one, which I took when we first got to the beach.

Even though I think Panama lost interest in it partway through, taking him down to the lake was a lot of fun. I am hoping we can do it again soon!

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

More trotting bareback

Thanks to everyone who suggested sitting back on my seat bones — it worked! I also noticed on Sunday that when I ride in the saddle, I sit much farther back than I've been sitting bareback. I scooted back today, and found it much easier to stay off his withers when I'm not sitting practically on top of them to begin with.

Another thing that helped today was that Panama was being really good. I think I've mentioned before that he seems to know he has to take care of me when I'm bareback, since I'm not as well balanced. On Saturday, for instance, he started to shy away from something, but stopped as soon as he felt me put my hand on his neck for balance. He stood perfectly still while I got situated. He got lots of praise for using his brain and taking good care of his incompetent mom!

I didn't ride for very long today, perhaps only about 20 minutes. I didn't have longer, but it went so well, I don't feel we needed it. We trotted at least half a dozen times, and I focused on sitting back and staying balanced. I found it was much easier to stay balanced when I sit farther back — he's not much broader back there, but it's enough to make a difference — and I was able to correct my balance a couple of times using my upper legs to push myself a little farther in one direction or the other.

I didn't mess with the reins much, which meant his head set was awful and he wasn't staying on the rail all the time, but I decided not to worry about that this time.

We're not trotting for very long at a time just yet, so we need more practice trotting bareback, but all in all I'm pleased with having figured out at least part of it. I think I still need some work on relaxing my lower back, but at least I no longer feel like I am struggling to stay on!

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Trotting bareback

Someone who likes to ride bareback a lot... How do you avoid hurting your, ah, sensitive parts?

My trainer and I are planning on taking Panama swimming on Wednesday, so she suggested I get a lot of practice riding bareback before then. I rode bareback this evening, and... OUCH!

Panama doesn't have an exceptionally high withers, but I think it's rather long. I feel like I'd have to sit in the middle of his back to be completely behind it, but maybe I am sitting too far forward. Still, within a few strides at the trot, I'm always considerably farther forward than where I started out.

I know I'm probably not sitting back enough, but if I try to sit straight, I feel like I'm positioning myself for considerably more pain. Those of you who prefer to ride bareback, how do you manage it — and still have a sex life?!

I don't have a bareback pad anymore, because his old one (pony-sized) no longer fits him. He still has a smaller girth than most horses (44"), so I'll probably have to get a regular horse-size pad and have it altered. No time to do that before our swimming date, though.

Well, I'll be riding bareback at least a little every day until Wednesday, so hopefully with the extra practice it'll come to me!

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Core issues

Panama and I have been bracing on one another, and today my trainer finally said, "Enough." She wants to try a standing martingale on him, but I said I'll think about it — and in the meantime I'll work on the issues we talked about that seem to be causing this.

On Panama's end, it's throwing his head up (mainly in the outside arena, but technically whenever he's anxious) and bracing on the bit when I'm trying to halt or half-halt him. On my end, it's a lack of core strength (I'm pulling myself forward) and needing to be able to clearer, firmer, and more consistent with my cues to regulate his speed and get his head down.

I'm focusing on the lack of core strength for the moment. I talked to my trainer a bit about how to develop this, and she gave me some suggestions (riding without stirrups, riding with a straighter back). I also asked some questions and cleared up some of my confusion about how to ask him to drop his head. (I was bending too much at the wrist when I asked, and my trainer showed me by having me hold the reins how ineffective that is.)

So we're going to work on this before the next lesson. I'm going to try to ride both days over the weekend and more during the week — I haven't been riding much lately, and I feel like it's part of why we're not progressing as fast as we had been at the beginning of the summer, when I was riding almost every day.

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Two feet down, two to go!

Today was Rodeo's farrier appointment. He was on his best behavior today, a relief after his recent bad day, but even so, we only got the front two feet trimmed. The farrier is scheduled to do the back two in a couple of weeks, after I've had a chance to work with him on the back feet a little more.

When I arrived at my in-laws' house today around noon (the farrier appointment was at 1pm), four of the horses were in the round pen, but Rodeo and Roxy (his mother) were nowhere to be seen. (The seventh horse, my brother-in-law's deaf gelding, was at the vet getting a tumor on his third eyelid removed — I suppose I should blog about that too sometime.)

Anyway, I started walking out into the pasture to look for Rodeo, but he and his mom came to the round pen when they heard me calling. Rodeo watched me approach, and when I got to about 50 feet away, walked right to me and let me halter him! I was so thrilled — it was the first time I'd haltered him in the pasture, where he is completely at liberty and doesn't have the round pen to keep him with me.

It was obvious right from the beginning that he was back to his usual sweet self. There was very little crowding — I walked him along the fence line a little, and he was perfectly fine with being led (although he was a bit concerned about his mom following us — she is a very dominant mare, and the horses are all wary of having her near their butts, for fear of them getting bitten!).

The farrier arrived early, and we played musical horses to get Rodeo into the round pen, and the horses that weren't getting trimmed out. He stood fairly quietly with me and watched the first horse get trimmed. I know patience is hard on a horse this age, but he is doing remarkably well — other than a little bit of shifting, which I expect and don't mind, he was fairly content to stand with me. (I'm sure it helped that he was getting lots of pets and praise and the occasional treat.)

Next it was Rodeo's turn. He did pretty well with the first foot, although he would start hopping around a bit if the farrier lifted his foot too high — he hasn't quite figured out yet how to balance on three legs. But when the farrier walked around me to do the other front foot, Rodeo shied away. The farrier put his hand up to Rodeo's nose, to try to let him smell him, but Rodeo isn't completely desensitized to people touching his face yet (he lets me but I suspect I'm the only one he completely trusts around his face). He shied away even harder — and started rearing!

I let the lead line slip through my hands enough so that I wouldn't get kicked, but I hung on. I was determined he wasn't going to learn he could get away using that trick! I was growling at him to quit, and after several rears, he did, and stood there looking at me. I reeled him in on the lead line, the farrier came back, and we went right back to what we had been doing.

After that little stunt, though, the farrier decided it was best not to attempt the back feet just yet. We were able to end on a positive note — Rodeo stood quietly for that second food, and there were no further incidents — so we called it quits, and scheduled a couple weeks out to allow me some time to work with him on his back feet (as he's still a little iffy with them being picked up).

The farrier had one more horse to do, so Rodeo and I stood and watched that one, too. I swear he is mentally taking notes when he watches!

After the farrier left, I brushed Rodeo for the first time. I discovered he doesn't like the super-stiff body brushes — he likes the medium-stiffness dandy brush better. I also brushed his mane, and with a little bit of coaxing, was able to brush his tail — standing at his hip, of course, as I don't yet trust him enough to stand behind him! I did all of this with him at liberty, so there was a lot of working on standing still, too — I haven't tried tying him yet, though I will soon.

After I groomed Rodeo, I had my mother-in-law hold him so I could work on picking up his back feet. This was an hour or more after the farrier had left, and Rodeo was in a willing mood, so I was pretty confident that it wouldn't be overkill.

I picked up the first hind hoof — he jerked it and shook it a bit, trying to shake off my hand. I waited until he stopped shaking it before praising him and putting it down. Went around to the other side — same thing, but with less shaking. Went back to the first side — he lifted it smoothly, no jerking, no shaking. Lots of praise and a treat. Went back to the second side — same thing, but with more confidence.

He is SO smart. He figures out what I want quickly, and is more than happy to give it to me. I was satisfied with that, so I turned him back out. He waited for a minute to see if I had one last treat for him (I did), and then headed back out to find his mom once he was sure I was done with him.

It was an extremely satisfying day, with lots of progress!

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Even cute, smart colts have bad days!

Well, the honeymoon is over! I have been admiring Rodeo for how smart and sweet he is, but I finally got a taste of what a bad day with him can be like. I don't know if it's because he is losing his fear of me and is now testing his boundaries, or if he was just really fired up on Monday, but I suspect it is a little of both. I think he may have been cooped up in the round pen for a while before I arrived, and he galloped the entire way across the pasture (sore feet and all) when I released him, so I do know that he was fired up.

The only question now is whether the pushy behavior was due to his mood, or something he is genuinely trying on for size.

He was being quite pushy on Monday, and my sister-in-law commented that he is getting an attitude. (I suspect that this may be partly because they are letting him get away with it...) I knew we were going to have trouble almost right away, when he bulldozed past me on the way across the round pen to get his halter. Forgetting for a moment that he wasn't Panama, I growled and smacked him (not hard) on the side, something I haven't done with him before. He ran past me, spun, and made a great show of kicking the air a short distance away from me. He wasn't trying to kick me, but he was letting me know that he was upset about being smacked.

Unfortunately, I didn't have anything in my hand to deal with that behavior properly, so he more or less got away with it. By the time I located a dirt clod to throw at him, too much time had passed and he was trying to stand on top of me, thinking the dirt clod was a treat.

In retrospect, I probably should have fed it to him.

We worked on a few things on Monday, switching back and forth to give him mental breaks. We worked on:

- Haltering without throwing his head up high, as he is prone to doing — not truly fighting me, just being difficult

- Backing out of my space when asked, not trying to block me with his body, etc.

- Walking next to me when led, but allowing for personal space (he is trying to walk on top of me)

- Not mouthing or reaching for treats, but waiting for me to bring the treat to him

- Not pawing when he gets impatient or frustrated

- Picking up his front feet when asked without stepping back first — he's having to figure out how to balance on three feet, but I want him to learn to shift his balance in place!

He was being too unpredictable and pushy, so I didn't try anything with his back feet. I'm hoping he was just having a bad day and will be better next time, and we can work on it then. I am, however, expecting that he may try some of the same stuff with me next time, to test me — our progress on Monday was shaky, as every time I thought I'd fixed something, he would revert back and test me some more. I was more or less pleased with his behavior by the time we finished, but I know better than to think I cured all of the bad behavior in one session!

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

I've heard of a pocket pony, but a pocket calf...?

This is what happens when you feed apples to a very tame little calf who thinks she's a dog.

Friendly calf begs for apples

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Surprise trail ride!

On Sunday, I went out to the barn to meet a fellow boarder who was going to check Panama's saddle fit (more on that later). Afterward, I hung around and let him graze. I was planning to ride, but I had forgotten to eat anything before I left for the barn, so I was thinking about putting Panama away and heading home when one of my trail buddies arrived.

Now, it has been a long time — over a month — since I've ridden with my trail buddies. I just have been too busy to get out there when they are riding. I neglected my work more than I should have at the beginning of the summer, and now I'm paying the price by having to work extra-hard to get caught up.

Anyway, we chatted for a few minutes, and after a while we decided to hit the trail together. Usually I avoid the trail on weekends, especially holiday weekends, but on Sunday things were surprisingly quiet. We only passed a few cyclists on the trail, and there were only a few tents up in the campground near the barn. We also took the trail around the riding stables, since it looked like they were holding a roping practice class out in front, and I thought that was an accident waiting to happen. Other than that, though, the only sign of it being a holiday weekend was that the people driving on the road were somewhat rude — they weren't slowing down as they passed us, in those spots where the trail was right alongside the road through the park, but the horses handled it all right!

It was a long, lazy trail ride with lots of grazing — more than usual. Panama was extremely alert and "looky," and I was worried about him spooking, so I intentionally made it into a very relaxed ride. Maybe it was all the grazing, or maybe it was the fact that the boarder who looked at his saddle gave him a little massage (she used to do equine massage), but even though he was looking at everything, he stayed pretty relaxed. At least, he never hit the dangerous levels of tension — you know, the levels where you can practically feel the horse zing beneath you. It turned out to be a really nice ride for both of us!

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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Cantering practice

Yesterday I had a riding lesson, my first one in two weeks. I've been working through Panama's hyperactivity and lack of focus in the outdoor arena for what feels like forever, so yesterday for a change we worked on me — my equitation and lots of cantering (which I haven't done much of lately because he's been such a pill outside).

I've been a little worried that I am somehow causing Panama's issues with my lack of good equitation, but riding in the indoor arena for a change demonstrated that I am not — he is definitely much more focused inside. He maintains the same pace, not to mention a slower pace — I actually have to put leg on indoors to keep him moving sometimes.

I definitely have things to work on, though. I need to get stronger with my leg yields, for instance, so that I can get a better bend out of him. He tends to stiffen up and sometimes even to turn slightly to the rail, which I suspect is from too much outside rein. I am working on it.

My trainer got some video of us cantering to the right, our worst side. He is being pretty good here, so you can see where my flaws are — I'm too stiff, not moving with his motion very effectively, and I have a hard time staying centered and balanced when we canter to this direction. I don't know if my issues are causing him to drop his right shoulder in, or if him dropping his right shoulder in are affecting my balance, but most likely it's both and we're both feeding off of the other's bad form.



Like I said, not very pretty, but we've come a long ways from our early cantering lessons!

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Friday, September 3, 2010

Fancy footwork



I worked some more with the colt yesterday. Working with Rodeo on some of these early things — such as haltering and picking up his feet — is very different than working with Panama was. I am learning how much of a difference there is between unhandled and manhandled. A lack of handling is much easier to overcome than issues from rough handling!

When we arrived at the in-laws' house, I went right out to the pasture to see Rodeo. I gave him a couple of treats and rubbed his neck, then turned around, intending to go inside and visit for a few before working with him. But he immediately started following me, so I walked down to the round pen — and he followed me every step of the way. In fact, I had to shoo him off so that he wouldn't walk on me.

(Now that he trusts me, it's time to start establishing the concept of personal space...)

I timed the haltering process, and it took well under five minutes to get it on him the first time today. This really shows how far we have come, since it was only the second time I'd had it on him! I took it off and put it back on perhaps half a dozen times today, and before long he was standing patiently for it.

I also worked a bit on picking up his feet. His front feet I was able to pick up while he was more or less at liberty, with the lead rope draped over his neck and one hand on the rope. He is a bit reluctant, I think because they are probably sore from being too long, but otherwise doesn't seem to mind. My sister-in-law held the lead rope so that I could pick up his back feet, and that was more challenging — he tends to kick a bit, not to kick me but to try to shake me off, like he has something stuck to his leg! But I wouldn't give him his foot back until he stopped, and he learned that pretty quickly. What surprised me was how quickly he translated that to the other side when I picked the other foot up. He is a very smart horse!

Rodeo is starting to show more of his personality now. He is very playful and mouthy, and likes to grab lead ropes and halters in his teeth. (We are working on not grabbing me in his teeth, which is becoming more of a problem now that he is more comfortable around me.) We've also seen him grabbing the other horses' tails when he wants to play.

He also, as it turns out, really likes his back and rump scratched. After the first time I did it, he started asking — he walks slightly past me, so that I am even with his back, and then takes a deliberate step toward me with his rear end.

Unfortunately, after taking this step he is literally standing on top of me, so we have been working on respecting personal space. I'm teaching him to move over when I nudge him in the ribs and say "over," and only once he's at a respectful distance will I give him scritches. He caught on quickly, and after a few times of that he was more subtle about asking. I'm also teaching him to back up when I ask, and he is catching on to that too. He already knows whoa about 95 percent of the time, although I think he may be responding as much to my body language (when I stop moving, he stops) as to the verbal command, which is okay with me.

I am so pleased with all of the progress we have made. The farrier is coming next week, and I believe we'll be ready! Oh, and by the way, it turned out I was right when I suspected he was older than a year — the brand inspection paperwork, which my in-laws just got, puts him at 17 months this month. So once the farrier visit is done, next on the to-do list is GELDING!

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Thursday, September 2, 2010

All fired up

I've been meaning to post these pictures for days, but Panama and Spaghetti had another playdate on Tuesday, followed by a short ride. Panama hadn't been out much lately and was all fired up so it wasn't the best ride, but it wasn't terrible either.

It probably would have been a better ride if Panama had had a more satisfying turnout beforehand. Unfortunately, while Panama would prefer to do more of this...

Horses running and playing

Horses running and playing

...Spaghetti is not as energetic as Panama, and would rather do more of this...

Horses playing bitey face

Horses playing bitey face

...and even a little of this.

Horses walking around

Panama likes bitey face is happy to oblige...

Horses playing bitey face

...but he does get a bit crabby about being pestered.

Horses playing bitey face

Sometimes Spaghetti doesn't take no for an answer, and Panama has to put him in his place.

Horses playing bitey face

Horses playing bitey face

Undaunted, Spaghetti just keeps at it!

Horses playing bitey face

I love watching the boys play, even though I know Panama would rather do more running. After they played bitey face for an hour, we were walking them back over to the lawn to hand-graze them, and we passed a horse being turned out in the other outdoor arena. He and Panama were clearly sending strong signals to one another, because the horse kept running along the rail near us, while Panama pranced in circles around me, his tail curled over his back.

We let them graze for an hour or so before we rode. Tina the tame calf, who was grazing in the yard too, kept walking around beneath the apple tree, trying desperately to get to the apples. She has already eaten all the apples within her reach.

Cute calf trying to eat apples out of the tree

Tina isn't as big as the other calves born at the same time as her, since she was ill and had to be bottle-fed, and yes the tree is fairly small too. I held down a few of the branches for her so that she could reach some apples, and then hand fed her a couple of apples, so after walking around under the tree like this a bit more, she came over to where Spaghetti's owner and I were sitting.

After sniffing our faces and necks (cow breath smells nothing like horse breath) and licking our hands, she tried eating my hair and then grabbed my water bottle, pulling half of it into her mouth before I was able to pull it back! Needless to say, I didn't drink out of it again — Tina is adorable, but she slobbers more than a dog!

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