Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Broken hearted

Panama's devoted little heart is broken — his best girlfriend and pasturemate, Daisy, left yesterday afternoon.  I was going to try to make it to the barn, to say goodbye as well as for emotional support, I suppose, but I had a busy day and was just plain beat by late afternoon.

As much as I hate to admit it, though, maybe being separated from his favorite horse ever was actually a good thing for Panama.  She was extremely buddy bound, and I think it encouraged him to be that way, too.  Plus, now I have him all to myself, so to speak: When I arrived this morning to take off his blanket, he was so happy to see me he started whinnying for me before I even got the car parked.

I took his blanket off (which had been on since Sunday night since the wind chill was so bad yesterday) and turned him out in the arena.  He got a really luxurious roll in — the kind where they roll all the way over to get the other side not just once, but about five times, back and forth — and then ran and ran with very little provocation, tail flagged.  I don't know if he had a lot of anxious energy built up from worrying about why Daisy had left, or if he just was feeling good without his blanket.

He still seemed a little needy, so I lunged him too.  He was fairly good, a little distracted but still willing.  I ultimately decided not to ride, though — I'll give him a day to adjust, and ride him tomorrow.  I think it was enough today to just spend some time with him and give him some exercise.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Work on bending

My last 2 lessons have focused a lot on trying to get Panama to bend.  His issues with his "bad side" — he is clearly less comfortable moving clockwise, and tends to be stiff when I try to get him to bend to the right — combined with the fact that I really struggle with the coordination of leg yields at the trot, have made this a difficult challenge for both of us.

We're getting there, though at times I'd rather be doing something more fun.  Sometimes it takes most of the lesson to get that "aha" moment (from both of us), but it sure is satisfying when we finally do!

After our lesson today, we hung out and watched Daisy's young rider's lesson.  Panama seemed to enjoy standing still and watching everything going on around him — other than occasionally soliciting a face rub from our trainer, he didn't try to move, just swiveled his head around from side to side to watch Daisy (his girlfriend and pasturemate).  He was especially interested in watching her jump — it was fun to watch his expressions (what I could see of them from the saddle) while he watched.

It's going to be really cold tonight — a low of 8 degrees, with the wind chill down to -6 — so Panama is wrapped up all snug in his blanket.  I'm hoping to get out to the barn tomorrow to take it off for a bit and maybe even get a ride in, but we'll see how cold it is.  That wind chill is supposed to be bad tomorrow too!

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Tacking room cleaning and working through distractions

Yesterday another boarder and I cleaned out the tack room and reorganized the blanket rack.  I complained to her one day several weeks ago that my blankets were getting moved around, and we talked for several minutes about how disorganized the blanket rack was.  After hearing nearly the same complaints from other boards, she decided to schedule a morning for us all to come clean up the tack room.

Unfortunately, she and I were the only ones who showed up, so there was only so much we could do.  We focused mainly on the blanket rack, since that was the source of the biggest problems, and because it was pretty clear that many of the blankets, fly sheets, and saddle blankets on the rack had been abandoned (or at least not touched in a very long time).  Case in point: When I was moving one of the saddle blankets, a dead mouse fell out from where it had burrowed into the pad and died.  Ugh!

We found lots of stuff buried on and behind the blanket rack and in other corners: buckets (one with a dead spider in it the size of a half dollar), an old spray bottle, an old bottle of iodine, an old set of coveralls with lots of duct tape-mended holes, 8 or 9 saddle blankets, two fly sheets with gigantic holes in them, and even a covered cat box and a cat bed that looked like it had been home to a family of mice for some time.

We piled all the miscellaneous junk up just inside the door, with a sign on the board for people to identify and claim anything that is theirs — what else are you going to do when people don't care enough to come help?  We also divided the blanket bar into ten separate spots, labeled them, repositioned a few (obviously never used) trunks to make some more room, and swept the entire tack room thoroughly.

It took us a couple of hours, and by the time we finished, my horse was standing by the gate whinnying for me every few minutes, clearly confused as to why I was not paying attention to him.  I was tired, but I decided to ride anyway, so I groomed him and tacked up.

Although it was sunny, it was a little on the cold side, with a cold breeze, so we rode inside.  His old pasturemate, Mozart, and his owner were also getting ready to ride.  Panama and Mozart are always so happy to see one another.  Then one of his favorite girlfriends, Lady, and her owner came in to ride, too.  He and Lady haven't gotten to be turned out together in months, so between her and Mozart, he was really quite distracted.

Panama has two levels of distractedness: the looky kind, where he wants to look at everything else and has trouble focusing on what I am asking of him, and the rocketship kind, where I can feel that he is ready to blast off at any minute.  Yesterday was definitely the latter.  He was constantly wanting to spin and chase after Mozart and Lady, especially when they were trotting or cantering.  I won't trot him at all when he is like that, so we walked  A LOT.  We did little circles every time he tried to speed up, figure 8s, and worked on bending and dropping his head.  Eventually he calmed down enough that I felt comfortable asking him to trot, but it seriously took 25 minutes of walking for us to get to that point.

The thing about Panama is that once he gets over it, he's really over it.  I didn't have any more problems with him after that.  He didn't even try to speed up when Lady cantered by us several times.  We got some good trotting in, and even got to enjoy a short (and rather disorganized) canter.  By that point, we had been riding for nearly an hour, so I decided not to pursue a better canter — I had just wanted to reward him a little for settling down so nicely.  We walked and trotted a little more to work him down from his excitement over cantering, then walked a few laps to cool down and called it a day.

We have a playdate scheduled for tomorrow and another lesson on Wednesday, so I've decided to give him (and myself) today off.  If all goes as planned, though, we should be able to get a lot of good riding in over the next week or so!

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Lack of motivation

I've been struggling with motivation to ride lately.  Weekends are always busy, and since hubby doesn't like to go to the barn we usually skip it.  During the week work often keeps me away, especially during times like this week, when I find myself struggling with productivity — which, ultimately, cuts down on my time to ride.

Take today, for instance.  I met a friend — Spaghetti's owner — out at the barn to let our horses play together.  It was cold and I knew I had a lot of work waiting for me at home, though, so I didn't end up staying long enough to ride.  Panama got to play and graze a little (on what grass is left — it's slim pickings), but no work.

That means that we'll be going into tomorrow's lesson not having ridden at all since our last lesson.  Very frustrating, because there were things I wanted to work on before my next lesson.  But Michael decided to take Friday (the day before his birthday) off from work, and I knew I wouldn't want to have a lesson when he was home waiting for me.

What gets in the way of your rides?  What kills your motivation?

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Carrot thief

Yesterday I brought a whole bag of baby carrots to the barn.  I left the bag, still almost full, in the tacking up area while I turned Panama out with his buddy, Spaghetti.  When we got back, lo and behold, this little monster was taking carrots out of the bag one by one and eating them!  He devoured more than half the bag.  Poor Panama!

Carrot snarfing dog

Max is one of the dogs that belongs to the barn's owners. Actually, he is a puppy, since I think he is only about a year old now.  Max thinks he is everybody's puppy, and happily greets everyone who visits the barn.  He also tries to herd the cows and horses (even though he has no clue what he's doing) and leaves his toys in the arena.  It's lucky for him he's so cute!

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Draw reins

Panama and I had a pretty decent lesson today.  It was the first time we had ridden since Tuesday, when it was raining and sleeting.  I had wanted to ride inside, but they were grooming the arena, so we had to ride outside — which meant dealing with Panama's increased distractability.

He was pretty good at first — not too fast, and listening to me despite the fact that he was, as usual, pretty distracted.  But I guess the longer he is distracted, the less he uses his brain.

My trainer has been observing lately that he is throwing his head up when we transition downward.  I think he seems to do this more outside, probably because he carries his head higher to begin with when he is distracted, and high + higher = really high.  Whatever the reason, though, today my trainer had me ride with draw reins.

They did get the desired effect, but I noticed that Panama's anxiety level also went up a bit, probably because he wasn't sure about them.  I didn't like having another set of reins to manage, though, so I was probably throwing off some uncertain/anxious vibes, too.  I learned a few things about coordination (and continuing to ask for his head to be down while braking), though.  I am going to ride again tomorrow, without the draw reins, and see if I can get the same headset by asking a little more consistently with just the regular reins.

By the way, I've noticed lately that Panama has been very good.  It's been a while since he has done anything stupid or bolted unexpectedly.  Maybe he just went through a spastic stage.  In any case, he has been behaving himself nicely lately, and has been really cute, too!  When I arrived this morning to take off his blanket, he was trying to play bitey face through the fence with Tina the calf (not sure if he really wanted to play, or was trying to chase her off some of "his" hay that got tossed outside the fence, but either way she wasn't going for it!).  I sat in my car and worked for a bit until my lesson, and he periodically went to the gate and stared at me, as if saying, "I'm waiting...  When are you coming to get me?"  He has so much personality — I love it when I get the good side of him for a while!

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

End of Eden

Panama has had a long, lovely summer where he was completely accepted by his two pasturemates, both mares.  The older mare, Savvy, has established herself as more of an alpha (rather than one of Panama's girlfriends), but he and Daisy are quite close.

Unfortunately, all that is ending.  Daisy is leaving at the end of this month.  Her owners have horse property in the mountains, but they have been stabling her in town so that her 13-year-old rider can take lessons and have access to an indoor arena.  Because of the economy, they have decided to move Daisy home and take lessons from a neighbor who has an indoor arena.

Panama has loved and lost before, but he has gotten more attached to Daisy than any previous girlfriend, I think.  I don't know how he is going to react to losing his love, but I am going to try to be mindful of the impact this may have on him.  I'm not sure whether working him while he is adjusting will be a good thing (get his mind on something else) or a bad thing (trying to make him work when he is upset).  I guess I will have to play it by ear, and base my decisions on his mood at the time.

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Weather and whether to ride

I almost didn't ride today.  I was planning to go to the barn in the afternoon, so that I could ride and blanket Panama afterward — we were supposed to get snow tonight, although it appears that forecast has changed.  (I'm sure Panama doesn't mind having the blanket on anyway.)  It started raining earlier and harder than I anticipated, and before long was sleeting, so I hurried to get out to the barn.

Panama was hanging out in the shelter when I arrived (the mares thought the weather was just fine, if that gives you any idea of what a priss Panama is).  He came out when he saw me pull in, apparently a bit indignant that I'd let him get sleeted on before coming out to blanket him.  He is usually a bit reluctant to trot with me when I am leading him, but today we had no problem with that — he wanted to get inside the building where we tack up just as much as I did!

After toweling him off and grooming him, I agonized for a little bit over whether to ride.  I wasn't feeling much in the mood, but only one other person was there so I knew the indoor would be nice and quiet.  However I was also concerned about Panama's mood — he was a bit restless in the cross ties, and with the wind and sleet, I was afraid he would be spooky in the indoor.  It can be noisy in the winter, as the water dripping from the roof makes tons of noise, and since he hasn't heard those sounds in 7 or 8 months, I wasn't sure how well he would handle it.

Eventually I decided to get tacked up and at least lunge him — that way, if he was being good, I could just hop on and ride.  Sure enough, he was nervous about the sounds and kept staring at the walls of the indoor, but he was still paying attention.

I also noticed that he was stepping a bit gingerly on his right hind — not enough to be considered lame or even kind of lame, but enough that I knew a small scrape on his fetlock was smarting just a bit.  He got that scrape yesterday, when he performed an impressive hockey stop during a playdate with Spaghetti.  He stopped in a flurry of sand and almost fell over in his haste to change course to follow his buddy!  I felt all up and down both rear legs, and there was absolutely no swelling or heat in the injured fetlock, so I concluded that it was just a scrape.  I decided to ride, and just take it easy.

We rode for perhaps 45 minutes, and I'd say probably 30-35 of that was walking, so when I say easy I do mean easy.  We worked on a few things like bending, framing up, and just plain getting reacquainted with the various wintertime noises in the indoor arena.  We also did serpentines and little circles, and worked on Panama waiting for me to ask him to turn instead of trying to anticipate it.  Sometimes he tries to make the next turn in the serpentine before we are even halfway there.  I'm having to learn a lot of subtleties in leg pressure to keep Panama from turning too early or letting him fall in with his inside shoulder — he does fine when I give him lots of clear, constant guidance, but starts cutting the corners if I am not there with him the whole time.

Before I knew it, he had forgotten all about the drippy noises, and we had a new set of distractions to work on: lots of friends.  The other person who was there when I started riding was the owner of one of his favorite mares, a stunning black-and-white pinto aptly named Flash.  They have ridden in the arena together before so he doesn't feel quite as compelled to try for a meet-and-greet, but before long a young girl and her mare came in (I don't think I know either of them), and Panama was very interested and distracted by a mare he didn't yet know.  We circled at one end of the arena while the girl lunged her mare at the other, and Panama kept drifting in his circle to try to get closer to the new mare.

Almost as soon as the new mare left to get tacked up, one of Panama's favorite geldings came in with his rider.  This gelding must send out some powerful "I want to play" signals, because Panama's excitement level goes through the roof almost every time he sees him in the indoor (only a handful of times to date).  Today he showed some signs of improvement dealing with that temptation, though — I think partly because I'd already been working with him for a while on not getting distracted, and partly also because he is probably (hopefully!) starting to get used to the idea of maintaining his focus when Ricky is around.  Put it this way: We were able to trot in the same arena with Ricky, and although it wasn't a perfect trot, I didn't feel like he was going to explode at any moment.  We don't usually trot around Ricky because of the effect he has on Panama, so this was a big step for us.

It probably sounds like a very dull ride, and I suppose it was, but it was the little achievements that made it such a successful ride.  Yes, we mostly walked, but I think it was a good reintroduction to wintertime noises in the indoor arena, not to mention good practice in focusing on me even when there are new and interesting horses around!

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Getting up to speed

I have been riding very sporadically lately.  I rode last Thursday and then again on Sunday, but both were relatively short rides — because I hadn't ridden for two weeks, Panama was very unfocused, so I wasn't asking for much beyond his attention.

Today I met Spaghetti's owner at the barn for our weekly playdate, and afterward, we rode together as we often do.  The ride started out pretty good.  We rode inside, so Panama was calm.  I got a rather hesitant trot when I asked (after warming up at a walk for several laps), but it was a good pace, so I asked for a canter almost right of the bat.

This was the first time we'd cantered for probably 6 weeks — since before my trainer took my stirrups away.  It was rather bouncy the first time I asked — I think he picked up the wrong lead, although I'm not very good at telling that yet — so I slowed him down and asked for it again.  That time he kicked sand against the door, scaring himself, and bolted for a stride or two before settling into a decent canter.  After nearly a lap around, I slowed him down, and we went back to trotting and walking.

Unfortunately, the canter got him all fired up, and I never did get to canter again.  I struggled to get a slower, more focused trot, and then two more horses joined us, doing very interesting things (horse #1's rider was ponying horse #2, which Panama has never seen before), so I pretty much lost him at the walk, too.  I rode for a bit longer, until he got a bit better about giving me his attention at the walk, but I never did try to trot (let alone canter) again.

That's okay — two weeks off is pretty substantial, so I don't mind taking our time getting back into it.  I do plan on going out tomorrow and riding some more, though — I have a lesson on Friday, and I want us to be more or less up to speed by then!

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Monday, November 1, 2010

Happy Halloween with ranch races!

This year at our barn Halloween party, we celebrated with ranch races!  Last year we had costumes and hay rides — click here to read about last year's Halloween party.

I opted not to do the ranch races.  Panama has been a bit too unpredictable lately, and I decided I was better safe than sorry.  Afterward I led him through the course, though, and he did fine.  He might have been all right, but then again, with me on his back and lots of people and horses milling around watching, it might have been a completely different story.  Since most of the obstacle course was out in the open field behind the outdoor arena, I didn't want to risk going down in the history books as the one who fell off her horse at the Halloween party.

My decision did, however, give me the opportunity to take lots of pictures!  Enjoy!

The day started out with a practice session, which I didn't attend, so the horses weren't really running all these obstacles with no previous exposure.  Then everyone enjoyed lunch...

Halloween party at the barn

...and some of the riders milled about waiting for the races to start.

Halloween party at the 
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Listening while the course was explained...

Ranch races at the 
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The course started out in the outdoor arena.  First you had to canter one circle fast to the left...

Ranch races at the 
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...then one lap at a slower canter to the left.

Ranch races at the 
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Then you had to turn and trot one circle to the right.  (A lot of the horses wanted to canter this one, too — they didn't understand why they had to slow down once they were all fired up.)

When you finished your circle, you grabbed a rope that was hung on a jump standard at the starting line, and dragged a log in a circle to the right, at whatever speed you wanted to go.

Ranch races at the 
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Some of the horses didn't care much for being chased by a log.

Ranch races at the 
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Once you hung up the rope, you had to exit the arena, opening and closing the gate (including unchaining and rechaining) from horseback.  Then you were off to the obstacle course behind the arena.

First you went through the puddle (a cement depression with water in it for practice purposes)...

Ranch races at the 
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...over the bridge...

Ranch races at the 
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Ranch races at the 
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...and got a letter out of the mailbox.

Ranch races at the 
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There is a large track in the field, which you had to ride all the way around it with that letter in your hand.  Most people ran it since the race was timed.

Ranch races at the 
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Ranch races at the 
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On the way back there was a log you had to go over.  Some horses jumped it, some just stepped over.

Ranch races at the 
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Then you put the letter back in the mailbox.

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Next you took your horses into a square made with four railroad ties.  There were tons of empty bottles and red Solo cups on the ground.  You spun your horse in one direction one revolution, and then the other, and then backed out the way you came.

The final obstacle was a roping obstacle.  Without dismounting, you picked up the rope, and then threw your lasso from behind the pole.  You had two tries...

Ranch races at the 
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...after which you got down and replaced the rope on one of the horns.  The trick: Your horse had to stay behind the pole and not follow you!

Ranch races at the 
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Once you were remounted, the clock stopped!

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