Thursday, October 28, 2010

Troxel helmet special

Remember my most recent fall, that broke my helmet?  Not wanting to be caught without a helmet, I went out that same weekend and bought a new one.  Too bad — I missed out on a nice special offer that Troxel has for the holidays.

Free fleece with helmet purchase

You have to buy a Cheyenne, Dakota, or Sierra helmet in order to be eligible, and you have to get it from one of their participating dealers.  One of the online retailers participating in this deal is Equestrian Collections (ad in my sidebar).

Too bad I already got my helmet.  Maybe I should ask for another helmet with a free fleece for Christmas, though — it doesn't hurt to have a backup, right?  And — bonus! — I can choose something other than pink!

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

And now it's winter

I haven't blogged in a while because I haven't done much with Panama in a while.  Michael took last week off, and we ended up doing stuff together — non-barn stuff —  all week.

We did make it out to the barn on Friday to turn Panama out.  I turned him out in the arena with Daisy, and he tore around with his tail over his back while she just generally refused to run.  He is so funny when he wants to run and she doesn't — as soon as I start swinging the lead rope (which he knows means I want him to run), he starts biting her rump to encourage her forward.  He had tons of energy on Friday and there was lots of rump-biting going on, but she was more reluctant to run than usual.  Eventually he stopped trying and just ran laps around her.

I should have ridden last week while the weather was nice, though, because this week is an entirely different story.  A cold winter wind started up on Monday, and has blown all of our nice weather right out of the state.  Yesterday I was supposed to have a lesson, but when I got out to the barn, it was so windy that the indoor was making loud creaking noises.  All of the horses in the indoor barn (which is attached by a hallway) were acting kooky, and after watching one person try to lunge their bucking, farting horse in the indoor arena, I decided that a lesson was out of the question.

I did visit with Panama for a bit in his shelter, which he made it clear he was not leaving, under any circumstances.  He was definitely feeling insecure, as he immediately set to frantically licking my jacket, much as he did on the 4th of July. I let him for a bit, so long as he didn't bite (he tried a few times, and was scolded for it).  When I left I saw him standing behind Sassy, the older mare in the corral with him, licking and biting her butt right around her tail.  She didn't look terribly thrilled, but she was tolerating it.

Today is still windy but not quite as bad, so I am hoping to get out to the barn in a little bit.  I'll turn Panama out and maybe lunge him to determine his mood.  It has been nearly 2 weeks since I last rode, so if the wind is quieter and he seems okay with it, I may try to ride.

How is everyone else doing?  I've heard it is windy in most parts of the country right now.  What crazy weather!

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A trim and a blow dry

My horse wearing his plaid wickster

Despite my big talk yesterday about how I need to get out to the barn and ride Panama more often, I didn't go yesterday — I gave up my trip in favor of getting some work done before we went to the in-laws' house for the evening.  I am glad I did, because I really did need to get that work done, but I still regretted not getting out to the barn.

Anyway, this morning I woke to the sound of rain on the roof.  I love that sound, except when I know it's also cold and my horse doesn't have his rain sheet on!  I had a farrier appointment scheduled at 10am, but I headed out to the barn early, figuring Panama would be wet and shivering.

And he was.  I put him in the cross ties (covered, thank heavens), toweled him off, and put his cooler on him.  Of course, he was tense from shivering, so everything was ten times as scary as usual, and he hadn't seen the cooler since last spring.  He did pretty well with it, but he humped his back up like a camel's when I put it on.

Then I brought out the hair dryer.  Oh boy.  He hadn't seen that since last winter, either!  Again, he did pretty well, other than doing his camel impression again (he's ticklish).  By the time I got him nearly dry, the farrier had arrived.

Panama was still jumpy and jittery during his trim, so when the farrier was done, I took him into the indoor arena to lunge him.  I was thinking about riding, but I wanted to see first what kind of ride I'd be getting!  First, though, I let him roll.  We aren't supposed to let the horses loose in the indoor arena, but Panama isn't accustomed to rolling on a line, so he pawed the sand a little and then walked up to me and stuck his nose in my chest.  Perfectly obvious what he was asking!  So I broke the rules a little and unclipped the lunge line.  He promptly rolled, and then very obligingly came back to have the line clipped onto his halter again.

Lunging went well.  He was definitely hyper at first, and even bucked once on the lunge line, tentatively — I laughed but didn't otherwise encourage that behavior, because I rather like it that he differentiates between work-running and play-running.  He settled down in a reasonable time frame, though, and I started thinking I would still ride.

But before I took him back to the cross ties to tack up, I noticed some blood on one front fetlock.  I'd actually noticed it before the farrier arrived, but it looked like more blood this time, so I decided to take him into the wash rack to clean it out and make sure it wasn't anything that needed my attention.

Easier said than done.  We haven't gone in and out of the wash rack regularly since last winter, and Panama wasn't having any of it.  It took probably half an hour just to get him all the way into the wash rack, and then he flipped out as soon as I hooked him up to the cross ties — I'm so glad he's not quite big enough or strong enough to easily rip a cross tie out of the wall, because he tried — twice.  Once he relaxed a little, I hosed off the fetlock, making sure the water wasn't too cold (to clean the blood a little more easily, and because I didn't want to cause another meltdown — Panama hates cold water).

Naturally, it was just a little scrape — he probably just slipped in the mud in his corral.  Of course, now that he'd had his meltdown in the cross ties, I couldn't just take him out of the wash rack without working on walking in and out some more.  It probably took another half an hour, but I didn't quit for the day until I got him to the point where he was following me in, turning around, and following me out (rather than stepping in and backing out in a panic).  He was still nervous, but he did it without hesitation, so I called it a day.

I'm disappointed I didn't get to ride, but I guess I gave him enough exercise (lunging) and mental stimulation (the wash rack) that the day probably wasn't a total waste.  I know that when you work with horses, you have to be willing to scrap your plans sometimes and work on what comes up — and I think I'm pretty good about doing so when I need to.  But that doesn't mean I don't feel disappointed for being unable to do what I wanted to do!

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Monday, October 11, 2010

Recent thoughts and progress

I haven't blogged much recently, so I'm going to try to explain everything that's been going on, both at the barn and in my head, in one blog post.  We'll see how this goes.

The biggest news is something I've been realizing lately: I haven't been giving Panama enough activity or attention.  I started out this summer riding nearly every day, and going for trail rides two or three times a week, but the last couple of months it has degenerated into just a couple of short rides a week.

It's not good for my own progress, of course, but it's especially not good for Panama, who is a very energetic little horse.  Last Wednesday, I met Spaghetti's owner at the barn, and we turned our horses out together.  Panama proceeded to wear Spaghetti out, but still obviously wanted to run, so I then turned him out with his girlfriend Daisy. whose owner was going to ride.  (Panama and Daisy are in the same corral, but they don't run in there at all, for whatever reason.)  I'd thought the second playdate finally made Panama tired enough, but when we went behind the barn to find Spaghetti and his owner, he spotted the horses in turnout — head up, tail up, ears forward, and he started prancing all over again.

I didn't ride that day (I wasn't getting on him without stirrups when he was that full of himself), and I only got a short ride in yesterday.  I had a pretty good lesson on Friday, and my trainer was satisfied enough with my progress that she said I could start using the stirrups again after a few more rides without, and see if I could feel the difference.

I went out the next day with Michael, but I ended up using the stirrups — it was extremely windy, and although we were going to be riding inside, Panama was acting loony enough that I wanted that added security.  I was glad I had them, because it did take him a little bit to settle down once I got on!  We had a good ride, though — two weeks of riding without stirrups has made a difference in both of us.  He seems to have learned how to trot a bit slower, and my seat feels stronger.  We also both had a revelation regarding downward transitions — I figured out how to sit back, and he figured out how to be more responsive.

My heels still aren't down enough, but hey, can't expect to fix everything in two weeks.

Anyway, all of this has me thinking about how much I've been neglecting Panama lately.  When I think about how he was acting several months ago, when he was being ridden nearly every day, versus how he is acting now, the difference is pretty noticeable.  He is so excited when I come that he waits for me at the gate as soon as he sees me get out of the car, and he has taken to nickering when he sees me bring the bridle out of the tack room.  Part of it is that he is energetic by nature, but I think part of it is also his need for mental stimulation.  He obviously enjoys his job very much, and I think he just isn't cut out for inactivity, physically or mentally.

I've come to the conclusion that I need to make a better effort to get out there and ride more often — not so much that I neglect my work, but more than I am currently.  I know Panama would appreciate more attention and activity, and I expect it will make me happier, too.

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Cavalia in Denver

Last night Michael and I saw Cavalia, which is essentially Cirque du Soleil with horses.  It was amazing!  Apparently the show has been going on for 8 years, but this is the first time it has been able to come to Denver, because Cirque du Soleil is always here this time of year.

Here is another article about Cavalia in Colorado.  Also, click here to see some impressive pictures of Cavalia.

My pictures aren't so impressive.  We weren't allowed to take pictures during the performance, but since Michael sprang for seats in the Horse Lovers section, we got to go to the stables afterward, where we could take pictures.  Not that they were that good, but still!

At the end of the performance, while we waited for all the other sections to leave so that we could go to the stables, I got a picture of the two mustang colts cavorting around the stage.  These two colts were rescued in Colorado (translation: culled from a herd in Colorado), and are sent on the stage to play at the beginning and end of the show.

Mustang colts from Colorado at the Cavalia show in Denver

While the colts were on stage in the beginning of the show, some of the acrobats were performing.  Everyone else was watching the acrobats, but I was more interested in the colts!  There were horse toys (as in, wooden horses) strewn about the stage as props, and those cute little colts were picking them up and playing with them.  Cutest thing in the world.

Mustang colts from Colorado
 at the Cavalia show in Denver

This next horse was used for bareback riding and acrobats.  He had a kind of surcingle with handles on it, and as he trotted and cantered around a round pen-like setup, the acrobats were constantly hopping on and off his back.  I was really amused by him, because he was all business — he knew he had a job to do, and he took that very seriously!  His head set, pace, etc. never changed until the very instant the last acrobat had finished his last trick.

Cavalia's horses

This next one was a real character.  He was used in quite a few of the segments, and was recognizable (they had a lot of greys) because one ear is cropped in a way that makes it look like a Doberman's.  He liked to stick his tongue out like he was blowing a raspberry, and did it on stage as well as straight at me when I was looking at him in his stall.  His name is Iman — he's the only one whose name I remember of the horses I took pictures of.

Cavalia's horses

 One of my favorite horses in all of this was a Lusitano stallion who just recently joined the show.  He is one of two horses in a short segment in the beginning of the show, when the trainer rides the other horse bareback and gets both horses to do some synchronized movements.  This guy was hilarious, very mouthy with his trainer and the other horse, and doing little things to be the center of attention, such as yawning repeatedly to get the audience to laugh.

With his stage cavorting in mind, I was absolutely stunned to see how upset he was at having people walk by his stall in the stables.  Most of the horses didn't seem to care for it, mind you — they stood with their heads down, butts to the people, and ignored us as best they could.  (Not all horses were like that, though — some would even stick their noses out the bars to try to get us to pet them, which we weren't supposed to do.)

This guy, though, I felt bad for, because he was really upset by all the people, probably because he was so new.  He repeatedly charged the side of his stall, pinning his ears at people, and finally subsided into the hateful posture you see here.  I know having crowds of people file past and stare at him has got to be stressful, but how can a horse that is obviously brimming with personality turn so hateful so quickly?  I hope he gets used to it soon, or if he doesn't, that they stop submitting him to something that so obviously upsets him.

Cavalia's horses

His neighbor was a little Arab who was still in training.  He is a 2008 baby, very small and fine-boned, reminding me a lot of Panama at that age, and he stole my heart.  He wasn't afraid or upset by the people, nor did he turn away and ignore them; in fact, he ate in the middle of his stall, looking up occasionally with obvious interest.  Being trained with the show from such a young age, I have a feeling he is going to be a real star when he gets older!

Cavalia's horses

It was a wonderful night, and some of the acts were truly exhilarating.  In one of my favorite acts, the acrobats raced around the stage with teams of two horses, standing with one foot on each horse's back.  It was a very impressive segment, especially when they jumped the horses that way!  Wow, what a show!

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Monday, October 4, 2010

Pink princess

I picked up a new helmet yesterday!  The last one was someone's spare I bought off them for cheap, and I have to say, I like the new one so much better.  All except the color...

Pink equestrian helmet

The only medium-sized helmets in the style I wanted were princess pink with a silver horse on the side.  WTF?  It's not like there are a ton of little girls running around with 7 1/4-sized heads.

Oh well.  As I told my trainer, with my track record lately, I'll probably be replacing this one soon, too!

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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Riding without stirrups

After my fall on Thursday, a lot of friends and family wanted me to take a break for a few days or a week, and my mom actually questioned whether Panama ought to be a riding horse.  All I can say is that there are a lot of people in my life who underestimate me, because I kept my lesson scheduled for the very next day.  I did tell my trainer I wanted to take it easy and not risk another fall, but that was my only concession.

The first thing my trainer did was to walk Panama over to the mounting block and start leaning across the saddle on her stomach.  He started to take off almost immediately, and she hopped down and backed him up 10 or 15 feet.  Then she took him right back to the mounting block and did it again.  She had to back him half a dozen times or more, but she quickly got him to the point where she could go through the motions of what happened on Thursday, even kicking him a little in the side, and he stood still for it.

While she was doing this, she observed that Panama is the kind of horse who doesn't forget things like this, and will actually use it as an excuse to act silly.  In other words, it's important to eliminate that new fear as quickly as possible.

Once he was standing still for everything she did, she turned him over to me and I got on.  My trainer commented right away that my posture was already much better at the walk than it had been, so apparently riding without stirrups Monday and Tuesday had already helped.  My balance is also much better and I'm able to trot for longer periods of time without needing to stop.  Panama is getting better at slowing his trot a bit, too — it's still no Western pleasure trot, but it's a little better.

I'm finding now that the hardest thing is to keep my legs where they should be — using the knee rolls, instead of just letting them hang down.  My legs are heavy, especially at the trot when gravity is working against me!  I am finding, however, that it is easier to get my heels down without the stirrups — apparently when I am concentrating very hard, I am curling my toes around the stirrups like a monkey hanging onto a branch!

Learning to ride without stirrups doesn't feel as impossible now as it did at first, though I think I am still a ways away from cantering without stirrups.  I think it was also good for my frame of mind to have a successful lesson the day after my fall.  Panama may be a dingbat sometimes, but we just have to get better together!

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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Why you should ALWAYS wear a riding helmet

If I weren't a believer before, I am now!

Why you should always wear a riding helmet

Why you should always wear a helmet when you are horseback riding

Don't worry — I'm all right, but I suspect if I hadn't been wearing that helmet, I wouldn't be writing to you right now — I'd be in the hospital!

Those of you who have been reading my blog a while will remember that I only started wearing a helmet last summer, and that it wasn't until last fall that I started wearing it all the time.  Well, I have had several days now to think about how lucky I am that I made that change.

On Thursday I went out to the barn to ride Panama.  There was a lesson going on in the indoor arena, and since I was going to be riding without stirrups, I didn't want the added distraction of having to avoid the student and her horse.  I decided to ride outside.

Unfortunately, the cement mounting block in the middle of the outdoor arena isn't as high as the plastic 2-step mounting block in the indoor.  When I jumped and tried to swing my leg over the back of the saddle, I missed.  I suspect I either kicked or kneed Panama in the process, because he took off.

My trainer asked me later what I was thinking, why I didn't just let go right away.  I had this harebrained idea that I was going to pull myself up into the saddle.  How I thought I was going to get settled and get him stopped without stirrups, I have no clue!  In any case, Panama was already starting to run away, but when he felt me trying to pull myself up, he took off like he had a mountain lion clawing its way up his back.

When I fell, I landed flat on my back.  My head struck the sand with enough force that everyone heard it and came running.  A few people were astonished when I got up and said I was fine — they said the impact was so loud, they were sure I would be going to the hospital!  After getting my bearings and finding my sunglasses (which had flown off and lost a lens), I fetched the plastic mounting block and got right back on (with a friend to hold him so he wouldn't run off again).

Within a few minutes, I changed my mind.  Panama, who was already upset because it was dinnertime and he wasn't getting to eat first, was fired up from my fall.  A horse in the nearby round pen was continuously running and bucking (wanting his dinner too), which wasn't helping either.  And as I rode, I started seeing stars in my periphery.  I knew Panama was about to run away, and that I was in no position to stop him.

Fortunately Flash, one of Panama's favorite mares, was riding by at that moment.  I swear she knew exactly what was happening, because without any direction from her rider, she cut Panama off and stopped.  She simply stood there, perpendicular to the rail, blocking his path, so I took the opportunity to hop down.  Only when Flash's rider made some irritable comment about her cutting off Panama did I realize that she didn't realize the potential accident her horse had just averted — Flash had been acting independently of her rider.

Anyway, the stars passed within five or ten minutes, and I was left with a mild headache for the next hour or two, until I finally took some ibuprofen to get rid of it.  A friend who used to intern at the Children's Hospital said that most minor concussions resolve themselves in a few hours, and that's probably what I had.

It wasn't until the next day that I took a good look at my helmet and realized how hard the impact must have been, to do that kind of damage!  I'm keeping an eye out for the symptoms of a concussion, which can show up days after the actual injury, but it seems as though I've gotten off with nothing more than a mild headache.  The thought of what could have happened, had I not been wearing that helmet, scares me silly!

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