Sunday, July 31, 2011

Do horses feel emotion?

A few days ago, Fugly Horse of the Day shared a link to a trainer's online newsletter, which addressed an issue a woman was having with her horse.  Most of us, reading this, will immediately recognize what's going on: The woman is afraid of her horse.  Because he shows fear, he is convinced that he was abused, and is letting him get away with being afraid.  He threatens to kick her when she tries to pick his feet, so she doesn't try to pick them.  He spooks, so she dismounts and leads him.  The horse is clearly the boss in this relationship, as she is allowing him to choose what he will do and when.

I agree with the end result of the trainer's rant, which is that she needs to toughen up and start making her horse mind, or he's going to get her hurt or even killed one of these days.  I just don't agree with how he gets there:

You are attempting to develop a relationship with Champ based on LOVE, KINDNESS, PATIENCE and TRUST... There is only ONE problem[:] The meaning of those words, your horse doesn't UNDERSTAND.

From there he goes on to explain that horses don't have emotions, which is why you cannot build a relationship with them based on emotion.  I agree with the latter, but NOT the former.

As a little background: The idea that animals don't have emotions is a throwback from the era of psychology known as behaviorism.  This prevailing theory was based on the fact that as a scientist, you can only come to conclusions that you can observe.  Emotion is not observable; therefore emotion does not exist.  (They thought emotion in humans boiled down to instinct, too, but where their ideas really stuck was with animals.)

But not long before this, scientists actually thought that animals didn't feel pain, either.  Any show of pain was simply reflexive and instinctive, not because they actually felt anything.  For many decades, animals were operated on without anesthesia because this was accepted as fact.

See where I'm going with this?  We were, quite obviously, wrong about animals not feeling pain.  In fact, a lot of people would be shocked to think that we ever doubted that they do.  Someday, I believe people will be equally as shocked that anyone doubted an animal's capability to feel emotion.  Just because they can't express themselves to us, doesn't mean they don't feel it.  It may be more simplistic than the emotions we feel — but then again, it might not.  After all, what is "love," but a mixture of being able to trust someone, enjoying someone's company, and in the case of romantic love, physical attraction?  All of these boil down into the basic needs of animals that this trainer refers to: safety, pleasure, and instinct (procreation).  All behaviorists will agree that both humans and animals make decisions based on basic needs like these, but if love is comprised of these things, doesn't it follow that animals feel love, too?

(I should note here that I don't romanticize love.  I don't believe in "soulmates," "one true love," or any of those notions.  Our society has come to romanticize love by promoting those kinds of ideas, but I think most often they either cause a lot of disappointment in people who would otherwise be happy together, but expect fireworks for the rest of their lives.  Ideas like those are also society-approved justifications to keep people, mainly women, in physically and emotionally abusive relationships.  I think romanticizing love is a dangerous idea, whether you are talking about horses or people.)

When I arrive at the barn to see Panama, he knows my car.  He's usually waiting at the gate by the time I park the car and get out, and whinnies to me — then repeats his call if he decides I'm not coming to get him fast enough.  A behaviorist's explanation for such behavior is that he wants, treats, hand-grazing, whatever it is about my visits that gives him the most pleasure.  In my opinion, that's kind of like saying that I love my husband because he makes me dinner.  I have no doubt that Panama enjoys those things, and that he probably loves me partly because I provide them, but I also have no doubt that he truly loves me and misses me when I'm not there.

As I pointed out in my comment on Fugly, though, just because I believe that my horse loves me — and want him to love me — doesn't mean I'll allow him to push me around.  Claiming that this woman is allowing her horse's behavior because she wants a relationship based on love is ridiculous.  She is afraid of her horse, plain and simple.  Think about it.  You know your kids love you, and you want them to love you, but does that mean you let them eat cookies for dinner or play in the street or use you for a punching bag?

No, of course not.  It is NOT an expression of love to allow something or someone to hurt themselves or you.  Anyone who says otherwise is either lying about their motivation, or really confused about what love means.

So, bottom line: I believe horses feel emotion, but I still expect my horse to behave himself.  And you know what?  Getting in trouble from time to time has never changed how happy he always is to see me or how much he enjoys his work!


Saturday, July 30, 2011

More cantering and the best trail ride

I did a lot of riding yesterday.  In the morning I went out to the barn to meet Spaghetti's owner — I'm a little tired of calling her "Spaghetti's owner" all the time, so for now (for her privacy) let's call her A.  Anyway, S.O. and I were going to go on the usual trail ride, but the usual trail riders didn't show up, so we decided to ride in the outdoor arena.

Like a good student, I practiced my sitting canter — I think we probably got in a good 15 minutes of cantering, which is a lot on a hot July morning in the sun.  It wasn't stellar, by any means, but I am trying to get into the habit of thinking more about keeping my heels down, my lower legs stronger, and my shoulders back.

Then Zans's owner — let's call her S — showed up, an hour later than usual.  It turned out that Savvy's owner, C, the other regular, wasn't able to go, so S was just running late (not knowing we were going). She was all for a trail ride, though, so A and I rode in the arena for a little longer until she was ready.

The woman who owns Sammy, the third horse in the corral with Savvy and Panama, was also riding, so S invited her out as well.  I was a bit nervous about this, as Sammy is 5, which meant that Zans would have 3 charges to "babysit," and I had no clue how Sammy would do.  M (his owner) said he did great last time they went out, but I think that was their only trail ride so far, so yesterday was their second time.

As it turned out, though, I needn't have worried — it was a great ride.  Perhaps it was all the cantering, or the heat, but Panama wasn't as excited as he usually is when we head out.  He was still excited, but he was content to plod along, rather than rushing the first half of the trail like he usually does.

The one thing he was, however, was very looky.  We had a minor spook when someone shot off a huge crossbow at the archery range as we were passing, but he just half-jumped, half-leaned away from the archery range.  I guess it seemed different to him than what we usually see over there.

We took the long way around the riding stables so that we wouldn't have to deal with the farm equipment and the spot where he dumped me back in May.  I know I'll have to deal with it again soon, but with 2 other young horses and only Zans providing any substantial trail experience, I thought yesterday wasn't the best time, so we went around.  This was actually good in another way, though, as it gave us some unfamiliar trail for Panama to think about — and a big hill.

Just in the last few weeks, Panama has suddenly figured out how to go down hills.  He was controlling his speed somewhat down hills when we were doing all our trail riding last year, but I didn't realize at the time (because of my inexperience) that he wasn't fully shifting his weight onto his back end.  In the last few weeks, however, he's suddenly figured this out.  Now, when we start down the hill, I can actually feel him sitting back!  It's quite an achievement, and I'm as proud as if I'd figured it out, instead of him.  But I wonder if it's partly also that he has more strength now, from all the cantering we've being doing, and therefore sitting back and controlling his speed downhill is easier on him than it used to be.

Since the trail was unfamiliar, and he was feeling rather looky, he was checking out everything — the rock at the bottom of the hill, a log off to the side of the trail, even the grasshoppers fleeing before us.  But — and this is another part where I'm really proud of him — even though I could feel that he was concerned, he didn't let it deter him.  We were leading (we led the whole way), so I just gave him a nudge whenever he required it, and he kept moving forward at a fairly constant pace.  He was clearly working through his worries, and I have to say it again: I am really proud of him for it.

We also didn't have a single disagreement about when it was time to stop grazing.  (Remember, we take periodic grazing breaks on the trail.)  Last trail ride, 2 weeks ago, we had a few incidents where he would refuse to walk forward even after I'd pulled his head up.  He does this periodically, and since I was leading last time too, I decided we'd had enough grazing.  If he tries to bully me, he doesn't get to graze, end of story, so we finished off the final third of the ride without any breaks.  I don't know if he remembered that, or if he was just being good on his own accord, but I didn't have a single problem with that yesterday.

It was, by all accounts, the best trail ride we've been on all year, and possibly one of the best ever, in terms of behavior and achievements!


Friday, July 29, 2011

Lesson day: Flying lead changes and some homework

I'm a day behind on my posts right now, so this post is about my riding lesson yesterday.  It was my first lesson in a few weeks, since my trainer was at a show last week and on vacation the week before.

Panama and I have been trying to get our flying lead changes in the interim.  We tried to show her a few, but she said he wasn't changing in the back, even though I'm sure that he did change both front and back at least once.  So she brought out a pole and had us do our changes over that for a bit, to get him to change both at the same time.  Sure enough, the pole worked!  He changes fairly nicely over the pole from a right lead to a left, but we had some trouble in the other direction, since going to the right is his worse direction — he wants to cut corners and let his right shoulder fall in, which makes the lead change difficult.  Eventually we got a good change and stopped on that note.

I'll be glad when we can get our changes without the poles, though — the poles are giving Panama a "target," something to anticipate, and he's rushing up to them.  We had a few "discussions" about that during our lesson.  He just gets so excited when he's learning something, particularly when there's something visual involved, such as a pole or a jump.

I've been cantering a lot in my two-point lately, because I've been practicing lead changes, but my trainer noticed that my sitting canter was (as she put it) terrible today.  I blamed it on lack of practice, so guess what my homework is for the next week?  Right... sitting canter!

Which leads me to my next hurdle — my trainer wants me to start cantering bareback.  Problem is, the thought terrifies me.  I only just got comfortable with trotting bareback, and part of that is the bareback pad I'm borrowing.  I'm happy to practice my sitting canter in the saddle, maybe even without stirrups, but I'm not so sure yet that I can stay on Panama's narrow back at a canter, even with the pad.  I do want to get there eventually, but I highly doubt it'll be this week!


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Colt day: First shots and some grooming

Yesterday I went over to my in-laws' house to work with Rondo, my mother-in-law's 2-year-old colt — the one I halter broke last summer.  The vet was coming to see her friends' horse, so while he was there I had him give Rondo his very first round of shots — my mother-in-law hasn't done that yet, and I think it was deterring people when we were trying to help her sell him earlier this year.

Considering they are the first shots he's ever gotten, I thought he did very well — certainly better than Marine, who threw a minor hissy fit while the first needle was in his neck.  Rondo, on the other hand, stood stock still.  The vet rubbed on him while I talked to him and told him he was a good boy, and his head only came up a couple of inches for each shot.  He'll have more in a couple of weeks, but at least he's gotten the first couple now.

After the vet left, we went inside to get something to eat, and then came back out to do a little more with the horses.  Marine and Rondo had decided to heck with people, though, and ran from me when I approached with Rondo's halter and lead rope.  (I think Marine, who can sometimes act rather scared of being caught, was the ringleader, but Rondo was more than happy to follow suit.)  I just walked Rondo down, following him back and forth across the pasture until he got tired of running.  His behavior when I finally caught him was funny — he stood facing somewhat away from me, but with his head twisted around to look at me, and sniffed my outstretched hand.  I could practically see him trying to remember why he'd decided I was so scary!  I was careful not to startle him when I haltered him, since his blood was up, but he offered little resistance.

As an aside, my mother-in-law was pretty amazed by this whole thing.  She told me afterward, "You have determination!"  I laughed and told her I think most horses have to learn that lesson at least once — that haltering isn't optional.  That's a pretty revolutionary thought for my in-laws — my brother-in-law tends to leave his horses' halters on 24/7 to make them easier to catch, and my mother-in-law only recently stopped doing that (possibly because of my influence).

Anyway, once I'd caught Rondo, I tied him up and groomed him a little.  Nothing much — just brushed him with a dandy brush, and then combed the knots out of his mane and (ridiculously thick) tail.  He's getting better about being brushed, but I still find he does better if I go slowly and stop occasionally for pets and praise.

I also picked his front feet and worked with him on picking up his back feet.  He still fights a lot with the back ones, so instead of trying to pick them, I just worked on him holding them up for a few seconds without trying to shake me off.  Each time I asked him to hold them up for a little longer; hopefully next time he'll let me pick them without making it into a fight.

Our biggest achievement of the day, however, was the fly spray.  I never blogged about the last time I tried to put fly spray on him — he got really upset about the feel of the spray landing on him, and started rearing in response.  He got into a lot of trouble for that, however, but it was a lot of fighting over just spraying his front legs and shoulders.

I decided after that incident that sometimes I'm expecting too much from him — such as spraying the whole horse when he's never been sprayed before.  So this time, I just sprayed his front legs.  I started at the bottom, spritzing the air next to his fetlocks a couple of times to give him a chance to adjust, and then sprayed his fetlock.  I worked my way up each leg a couple of sprays at a time, giving him short breaks in between to praise him for standing still, and reminding him a couple of times with a quick jerk of the lead rope to not fuss.  Overall, he was good, but I stopped when I got to the top of each front leg, as I could feel he was getting antsy, and I wanted to end on a positive, "nothing bad happened" kind of note.  I think I'll go a little farther each time, and extend his comfort zone slowly.

I thought shots, grooming, feet work, and fly spray was plenty for one day, and let him go shortly thereafter.  On the whole, he was quite good, and I was pleased with his behavior.  Hopefully I'll get out there next week, though I'm a little worried that we're overdue for another "terrible twos" kind of day!


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Withers are NOT a girl's friend

I meant to ride Sunday, and then yesterday, but the soonest I could seem to find the time was today.  We had our 6-year-old nephew over Friday and Saturday, and required Sunday to recuperate!  And then yesterday I had work to do...  You know how it goes.

Anyway, this evening I tried out a bareback pad that Spaghetti's owner is lending me.  She is blessed with a rounder horse than mine, and probably a better sense of balance on his back, so she doesn't often use it.  Panama is difficult though because he's so little — standard bareback pads don't fit him.  Tonight I had this one tightened up as far as it could go, and it was still a little looser than I'd like.  Now that I know I like riding with a pad, I'll have to try to find one with a smaller seat and girth.

The pad made a world of difference — it was a suede pad, so it made it slightly easier to stick.  The real advantage though was that I didn't feel like my bony parts and Panama's bony parts were constantly making contact.  I think he thought it was better, too — usually, after a lap or so of trotting, he slows to a walk on his own, but this time he was open to trotting a little longer.  I think that's a good sign that riding bareback without a pad is a bit uncomfortable for him, and the pad fixed it.

Even with the pad, though, the withers were a bit uncomfortable.  We did lots of trotting, and toward the end I was feeling a bit raw in front.  It may have something to do with the nylon strap and trim that is right in that general area between his withers and my, ah, crotch.  Nylon straps don't provide much padding.

I think there is also something to be said for me needing more practice riding bareback.  I seem to remember, when my trainer gave me a few bareback trotting lessons on her horse a few years ago, that after a few times I stopped getting so sore from that contact.

Now that I have a pad, though, I do plan on riding bareback a little more frequently.  Maybe I can even learn at some point how to haul myself up without a mounting block!


Friday, July 22, 2011

Thursday ride

I ended up not having a lesson on Thursday — my trainer was out of town for a horse show — but Panama and I rode anyway.  It was hot when we got all saddled up, and I didn't feel like riding outside, so I headed indoors — good thing I did, because the weather very quickly turned (as it often does in Colorado), throwing in some thunder and rain before settling into an overcast, slightly cooler rest of the morning.  I was very pleased to note that Panama didn't freak out when it started thundering and raining, despite our harrowing experience last week of being trapped in the indoor during a terrible thunderstorm.  What a good boy — I was really worried that he'd melt down the next time it rained or thundered when we were riding.

I was a bit lightheaded when I first got on — from being dehydrated when I first woke up, I think, even though I'd been sucking down water while I tacked up — so I started our ride fairly leisurely.  We did ultimately get a lot of trotting and cantering done, and practiced our flying changes.  I think I'm getting better with my cues, and Panama is picking up on what is expected of him — without someone there to tell me, I'm not always sure whether he's changing his lead in the back along with the front, but several times I was fairly certain he had.  Once he even changed his lead two strides before I was planning to ask.  Obviously I don't want him anticipating that all the time, but it demonstrated to me that he has figured out what we're doing.  I can't wait until we have another lesson, so that my trainer can give me some feedback on how we're doing with it!


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A lovely evening ride

Yesterday I met Spaghetti's owner out at the barn for a playdate and an evening ride.  Although the day had been hot, the evening was quite nice, thanks to a late-afternoon thunderstorm that cleared up before we got there.  We turned the horses out together first, and they ran for a while without stopping, since it was their first playdate in a while.

After the horses finished running, we decided to ride, since it looked like the nice weather would hold for the rest of the evening.  We rode for a while, perhaps 45 minutes, but on the whole it was fairly leisurely.  I worked a little on my "homework" from my last lesson, getting Panama to bend and move off the new inside leg across a diagonal at a trot, to try to help him (and us) get our flying lead change.  Then I did a few changes, and I think the last time he may have gotten it, right away too!  When my friend looked, she said it looked like he was on the right lead in both the front and the back, but she only got to see a few strides because he dropped out of the canter.  I'm sure we'll practice more during my lesson, so my trainer can tell me then if he's getting it — I can feel it if he's on the wrong lead in the front, but I don't always feel it if he neglects to switch the back.

We rode for a bit longer, but mostly just poked around.  We were in the outdoor arena and it was a gorgeous evening.  It was the kind of ride that makes me so glad I have a horse!


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

There's a horse in my basement!

No, not my basement — but I thought it was a funny play on the title of another blog I follow, There is a Horse in My Bubblebath.

In Elizabeth, which is a small rural town about an hour south and east of Denver, a horse named Summer fell through a window well into her owner's basement.  The article includes a pretty funny picture of the horse standing in the middle of a partially finished basement.  I guess it was something of an ordeal, though — the horse refused to go up the basement stairs, and they couldn't get her back out the way she came in without drugging her and digging out the window well to make it bigger.

It's a funny story, but it's also a good reminder of why horses belong in pastures, not backyards.


Determining whether it's too hot to ride

Kate of A Year with Horses linked to this excellent post on Equine Ink the other day: How hot is too hot to ride?  The post gives an easy formula for determining when it's too hot for the horse to cool itself effectively.  I think I wimp out of riding long before the heat gets to be too much for my horse, but it's still a great formula to keep in mind.

The timing was appropriate — when Kate posted this link, our weather was just starting to turn.  For a couple of weeks we'd been having severe daily thunderstorms; the news reported that in the first two weeks of July, we'd already gotten twice the amount of rain we usually get in the entire month.  We always have a month or so of daily rainstorms during the summer in Denver, but it's not usually as bad as the torrential downpours we were getting.

But the tide has now turned, and instead of rain, it's HOT.  The temperatures have been in the mid-90s for the last few days, pretty much the first time that's happened yet this summer.  And naturally, our swamp cooler — a little portable model that we got 4 years ago or so — quit working on Sunday, the first day of the heat wave.  It really didn't help much, just enough to take the edge off the heat on days when it got up above 90 — our little one-story bungalow actually stays fairly comfortable until the outside temps get to about 90 degrees or so, especially now that we've learned how to manage the heat without air conditioning.  Box fans in the windows overnight to pull in the cool outside air, and windows shut during the heat of the day, actually manages the heat pretty effectively.

But there's only so much that can do when the temps get up into the mid-90s.  I hope this heat wave doesn't last for very long — I was actually rather enjoying our cool summer, even if it was a little stormy for my tastes at times.


Friday, July 15, 2011

A trail ride and a temper tantrum

Today would have been a great ride... except that he decided to be a complete dick and throw a temper tantrum about a horse getting too close behind him.  Remember when he double-barreled the horse behind him last summer, and threw me off?  Well, now he's done it again.  I hate having "that horse," the one that'll kick if another horse gets too close, but I guess I can no longer pretend otherwise.

Aside from that incident, it was a great trail ride.  There were five of us: Zans and his owner (as always), Savvy (Panama's pasturemate) and her owner, Spaghetti and his owner, and Tiny and his teenage owner.  We haven't ridden with Tiny before, and he's the one Panama kicked at.  I would have felt so bad if he'd kicked his rider — a kid, for heaven's sake! — but thankfully, he did not.  She didn't think he got Tiny, either, because Tiny got out of the way pretty quickly — and kept a close eye on Panama's butt whenever it came into view for the rest of the ride.

(Tiny, by the way, is a HUGE black Thoroughbred.  He's got to be 17 hands and has a head as long as my arm.  Yes, his name is a joke.)

Spaghetti's owner was a little nervous about it being their first time out since Panama and Spaghetti ditched us and ran home.  He was also a little revved up at first, but she hung out in back with slow and steady Zans, and Spaghetti calmed down.  I think a confident horse is exactly who Panama needed to buddy up with his first time back.  Panama and I were in front or right behind Savvy almost the entire time, of course, and that was what he needed, too.

Panama definitely hadn't forgotten how busy the park was on our last time.  When we came up over the hill above the yurt, he was looking for the multitude of kids that we saw there last time.  He remained alert all the way past the archery range, which had been hopping last week but was almost dead today.  Then we took a slightly different, quieter route, and he calmed down nicely.  We went down a somewhat steep, rocky hill, and I was pleased to feel him collecting and shifting his weight to his rear as we descended — he tends to want to rush and run down hills, so I'm always pleased when I can get him to take it slow and steady.

Then we passed the public arena, which was full of people and horses, just like last week.  I wonder if some pony club is meeting there, or if the riding stables is giving lessons or something (the public arena is right behind the stables).  Savvy was in front, but Panama was getting looky, so I asked her owner if we could pass.  Panama does much better if he's in front, maybe because then he feels he has a job and has less attention to spare for interesting things like the crowd at the arena.

The halfway point of our "land loop," as we call it (because we don't go down the hill to the streams), comes back to the side of the road, and sometimes that can be a little nervewracking for new horses.  Tiny definitely thought it was.  He was in the lead very briefly, until he spooked at nothing and Panama took over.  Then we came across a large group of children on bikes, probably a daycare class out with their teachers, and Tiny was visibly considered running away from that.  (We pulled over to let the horses graze while they passed, but Tiny was too scared even to eat.)

When we kept going, Savvy took the lead and Panama fell in behind her, with Tiny following.  A couple of young guys on bikes flew past, without slowing or going to the other side of the road as most cyclists do, and that scared the crap out of Tiny.  He started jigging behind us, which made Panama tense.  I thought Panama was feeding off of Tiny's anxiety, but it was actually quite the opposite — Panama was pissed off at Tiny for getting too close behind us as he jigged. Suddenly Panama planted his front feet and bucked hard, twice, screaming in anger the whole time.  I could practically hear him saying, "Get a hold of yourself!"

Luckily it all went about as well as a situation like that can go.  Tiny got out of the way, and I stayed in the saddle.  When I felt Panama start bucking, I rose out of the saddle and slightly forward, to stay out of his way; I could feel that my weight was in my stirrups, but my heels must have been down, because his bucking didn't unseat me, and Spaghetti's owner (who was behind Tiny) said they were pretty big bucks.  When Panama was finished, I just sat back down.  It hardly ruffled me at all — it was afterward that my legs turned to jelly, and I had to sing for a little bit to calm myself (and Panama) again.

Unfortunately, I didn't think until several seconds had passed that I should have gotten Panama into trouble for that.  My mind was a jumble, and I just wasn't thinking straight.  I turned him in a tight circle (he knows that means he's in trouble), and figured that would have to do, as I think too much time had passed to really give it to him.  Hopefully there won't be a next time, but if there is, hopefully I'll have a little more presence of mind to deal with it then.

Panama was still tense and angry with Tiny, so Savvy's owner let us pass, and fell in behind us as a buffer between Panama and Tiny.  I sang about six verses of "You Are My Sunshine" (that's my riding song, as I can sing it nice and slow) but the tension was slow to leave Panama.  Once he calmed down, though, we were able to get right back to our nice, easy ride.

Panama never stopped paying attention to where Tiny was, though.  When we got back to the property, I took Panama straight back, because he was being a little pushy any time we stopped to graze, but Savvy's and Zans's owners stayed out a bit longer to let their horses munch.  As soon as Tiny passed Savvy, Panama was instantly alert, knowing he was behind us again.  He continued to give Tiny the evil eye — or should I say, the evil ear, since it was pointed at Tiny the entire time — until we parted ways at the outdoor arena (Tiny's owner wanted to ride a little more).

It's really too bad about Panama's little temper tantrum, because if it hadn't been for that, the ride would have been downright perfect!


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Rained out

I went out to the barn last night for a nice, relaxing late night ride... but my plans were thwarted by one of the worst thunderstorms I've ever been in.

The amazing thing was how it came almost out of nowhere.  We saw the cloud and heard the thunder as the storm approached, but I didn't think it was going to be any worse than a moderate storm, and being in the indoor arena while it's raining is good practice for Panama.  The minute we got into the arena, though, it started pouring.  We could see the lightning flashing every few seconds from inside the arena.  I hand-walked Panama around for a little bit — he jumped at a few of the loudest cracks of thunder, but was overall only moderately nervous.  Still, I wasn't going to take any chances and ride, so we were really just waiting for a long enough break in the storm to run back to the other side of the property and put Panama away.

The rain slowed enough that we decided to try, but Panama steadfastly refused to leave the barn.  He doesn't like rain, but he's left the barn in the rain before, so I think it was probably the almost-constant flashes of lightning and close-sounding cracks of thunder.  It was a bit scary, because while he'd been manageable in the arena, he started really freaking out once I started asking him to go out in it.

Then, at the worst possible moment, there was a huge crack of thunder and the power in the barn went out.  I thought for sure I was going to get trampled by a panicked horse, and froze.  Luckily for me, Panama followed suit.  All he did was to take one teensy step closer to me; I reached out and put a hand on his neck.  I was still standing there, trying to figure out what to do next, when the lights came back on about 15 seconds later.

At that point I decided it was pointless to keep trying to get him to leave the barn.  The rain was picking up again, and he was only getting more frightened the harder I tried.  There was an empty stall, so I put him in that (with some coaxing — he didn't want to go in at first), removed his saddle and bridle, and gave him half a flake of hay to keep him busy until the storm passed.  He paced when it thundered, and called when he couldn't see me, but at least he was safe — I was really worried about him getting loose in that.  No telling where he'd end up!

When the rain finally slowed, and the thunder and lightning moved off into the distance, we got Panama's halter and led him back to his corral.  He was reluctant to step outside, but once he was out there he was fine, and wasn't bothered by the rain or the (more distant now) lightning or thunder.  I think he was actually happy to get home and see his buddies.

The entire ordeal lasted about an hour, so we left around the same time we would have if I'd ridden as planned.  Unfortunately, the experience eliminated not just one, but two rides — I didn't go on the trail ride this morning.  When I first woke up, it looked like rain, so I went back to bed; and besides, I figured it would still be muddy (and Panama would probably still be worked up) after last night's storm.  Oh well.  It just goes to show that you have to be willing to be flexible when you have horses, because not everything goes according to plan!


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Friday: Back out on the trail!

The crowning achievement last week wasn't our lead changes, but getting back out on the trail for the first time in just over two months — I hadn't been out since Panama and Spaghetti dumped my friend and me back in early May.  The delay wasn't all fear-induced — part of it was timing (our barn locked down for EHV-1 shortly afterward), and part of it was being too busy and sleeping in a lot from late nights spent working and reading.  Being nervous certainly didn't help, because I didn't have any burning desire to make it out when I knew my trail riding buddies were going, but it wasn't the only reason.

But on Friday I finally broke the ice and went on a trail ride!  It was just Zans and his owner with us, which made me happy — Zans is very laid-back, an excellent quiet trail riding buddy to help us calm down when Panama is nervous.  And he was a bit nervous — there was a lot going on in the park on Friday, more than usual for a Friday morning.  First, the yurt we pass early on was crawling with kids — several ran across our path.  Next came the archery range, which was also much busier than usual.  And then of course the riding stables, the place where he dumped me last time, two separate groups out on trail rides, and another group riding in the public arena.

My nervousness probably was contributing to his, but I led Zans lead as we passed the riding stables, and that helped.  Once we get past all those parts, though, the second half of our loop is usually very quiet, even though the trail goes along the road — we get passed by bicycles and the occasional car, but Panama doesn't mind any of that, so he usually relaxes and slows up during that stretch.  Or maybe he just knows we're halfway there, and doesn't want to go home — I don't know.

In any case, Panama calmed down once we passed all of the commotion, and we had a very nice, relaxed ride for the remainder.  It felt good to get out there again, and I'm going to start trying to go at least once or twice a week again.  Last summer we went on trail rides two and three times a week, and it was really starting to become old hat to Panama.  I'd like to get us to that point again!


Thursday: Flying lead changes (sort of)

On Thursday, I had my lesson.  Last week's lesson, we worked on lead changes: My trainer had me canter, go down the diagonal, transition to a trot for a couple of steps, and then pick up the canter again.  Like I mentioned in my last post, Panama doesn't really have any hang-ups about his leads, so he always picked up the correct one, even though I wasn't cuing for it.

But after Wednesday night's ride, I was interested in trying flying lead changes.  I figured that as good as he is with his leads, it'll be simple for him to pick them up — and he is pretty good about them.  I think it's my lack of proper timing that is preventing him from figuring it out completely.

So my trainer talked me through the flying lead changes.  Panama consistently changed his lead in the front pretty quickly, but usually didn't change the back until we went around a half-arena circle.  I'm having to remember about 50 million things as I'm asking for the change — inside rein up a bit, inside shoulder back (so I don't lean), leg-yield off inside leg, outside leg slightly back (to cue the correct lead), and as always, heels down... and I'm probably forgetting something there.  But in any case, I have a feeling that once I figure out my timing, Panama's will improve, too.

The fun thing about lead changes is that Panama loves it just as much as I do.  He gets to canter a lot (which he loves), but he still needs to use his brain, so it keeps him from getting excited and going too fast.  All the practice is good for me, too!  I was already getting much better at the canter, especially in my two-point, which is why my trainer decided we were ready to start doing lead changes in the first place; but all of this practice is making me feel even more secure.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Wednesday: A horsey hump day

As promised, here is the first of the posts about my horsey stuff last week.  I'm going to try to cram all of these into the next couple of days, since I'm hoping to ride several days this week, and I want to get into the habit of posting after every ride, like I used to!

Wednesday was an especially horsey day, because I went down to my mother-in-law's house and worked with Rondo, the 2-year-old colt.  It was a big day for him — he got his first tube of dewormer since he was gelded almost a year ago.  He simply wasn't at a point where he could be dewormed easily, so my mother-in-law hadn't tried.  I didn't want it to turn into a rodeo, because I knew he'd remember that, so I gave him the dewormer in 4 separate doses, with lots of praise and treats in between.  By the third dose, he knew what was going to happen when he saw the tube coming, and tried to keep his head out of reach; by the fourth dose, he'd learned that didn't work, and stood patiently, if a little grumpily, for the rest of his dewormer.

Now I just need to be sure to mess with his mouth a lot during the next couple of months, so that he doesn't start thinking that every time I do so, he's going to get some foul-tasting paste squirted down his throat.

I'd brushed Rondo a bit before deworming, but I wanted to be sure to end on a good note, so I released him after the dewormer.  I had intended to pick his feet or lunge him, but standing for the dewormer was such a big deal that I wanted to reward him for it.  Plus, I've learned from experience that Rondo has a very short attention span (and very little patience once it runs out), and I didn't want to push so far that it would make it too hard to end on a good note.

My mother-in-law has been somewhat anxious to get her youngster under saddle, so even though we haven't done any training with him yet (he still doesn't even know how to lead without walking on top of you), she wanted to put a saddle on him.  My in-laws have something about putting kids on horses they have no business being on, so she told my 6-year-old nephew he could ride Montana.  I didn't think that was such a good idea, but I didn't entirely feel comfortable saying so.  My MIL stood in one stirrup a couple of times, until Montana got used to the idea of carrying some weight, and then she put my nephew in the saddle.  Montana was good, but as soon as he started shifting and pawing, indicating some impatience, I had my nephew get down.  We didn't walk Montana around with him on board or anything, as I thought that would be too much for Montana, since he didn't know the first thing about being ridden.

We did, however, put both my young nephews (one at a time) on a horse belonging to one of my mother-in-law's good friends.  She's been taking care of their horse while they travel, as the owner's wife is a traveling nurse, and he's been traveling with her for now.  Their horse has been sent away for training two or three times, the most recent being last winter, as he's bucked his rider off a half dozen times or so in the past.

The most recent trainer was supposed to continue riding him once a week or so after he returned to live with my mother-in-law, but he won't return their calls, so they don't really know whether the trainer has told the truth about what he did with Marine.  I tried lunging him a month or so ago, and discovered that someone — probably this last trainer — has taught him to run his ass off in one direction only.  Clearly someone wanted him to get good and tired before they got on!  I also discovered that Marine is a bit slow to figure out what you're asking of him, and when he doesn't understand, he tends to hit the panic button right away — I think it may be because someone has been impatient with him, and he's afraid of getting into trouble.

In any case, I didn't try lunging him or anything on Wednesday, just put a saddle on him.  There was some very obvious anxiety when he saw the saddle coming, so I tacked him up very slowly, taking the time to pat and reassure him.  He relaxed a bit, so I walked him around a little bit with the saddle on.  Marine tends to plant himself, so I worked on moving forward with a cluck; the lick-and-chew I got when I praised him for finally walking forward surprised me.  Has he never been praised for something like that, or has he not even learned it in the first place?  It seems like a rather elemental thing to be licking and chewing about at his age, and after professional training.

After our little walk, I got the girth tight and stood in one stirrup for a moment, got down, and praised him, then stood in it again.  Once I was sure he was relaxing for me, I sat in the saddle for a few minutes before getting down.

At this point Marine was pretty relaxed, so we gave each of the boys a short ride on him (once around a small round pen-sized circle).  My mother-in-law led him while I stuck close to the boy's side, ready to pull him off if Marine started looking nervous again.  But he remained relaxed, and seemed almost proud to be toting the boys around.

Pony rides on Marine

He doesn't look like a vicious bucking horse, does he?

I'm wondering if Marine just needs patience and a quiet rider whom he feels he can trust.  I felt like he started trusting me today, judging by his reactions to my praise and reassurances.  It's also possible that the few times he has bucked, there has been something specific to set him off.  He just doesn't seem like a bucker to me.  I may try riding him next time I'm there — with my helmet on, of course!

After I got home from working with my mother-in-law's horses, hubby and I ate dinner and went out to the barn so I could ride Panama.  During our last lesson, my trainer started having me do lead changes — transitioning down to a trot for a couple of steps across the diagonal, then picking up a canter again — so I wanted to work on that some more.  I am lucky that Panama doesn't seem to have any hang-ups about his leads; although he does better riding to the left, he will pick up either lead, and always seems to know which one to pick up.  (My trainer hasn't been having me cue which lead I wanted, since I was struggling with everything else I had to think about.)

Our practice went really well — Panama picked up the correct lead every single time, and I started thinking about when we could start doing flying lead changes.  The next day my trainer talked me through some of those a little bit — but more on that in my next post!


The bad thing about this kind of year... this:

My horse and his muddy butt

We've been getting a lot of rain, which means I've been currying off a LOT of mud.  I don't know if you can tell, but it's caked crazy-thick on his backside in this picture.

Sorry for the lack of posts, but for once they don't reflect a lack of rides.  I rode three times in a row last week — Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.  Today I didn't feel like riding, so I just held Panama for the farrier, and then let him (Panama, not the farrier!) graze for a little while.

To tell about each of my rides last week will take a while, so I'll write an individual post for each.  Stay tuned!