Tuesday, August 30, 2011

More on sheath cleaning (funny)

As a follow-up on the video I posted a link to a few days ago (how to clean a male horse's sheath), I wanted to share this other resource I found:

Sheath cleaning for the gelding or stallion

The first part of the article is serious, and has some useful information.  It's the second part, about Mr. Hand, that I'm really posting it for, though — it's hilarious!

After you've read it, feel free to come back here and share your favorite bits.  I particularly like the repeated recommendations to prepare a good explanation for any unlucky passersby!


Sunday, August 28, 2011


I took this picture with my cell phone the other night at sunset, while Panama and Spaghetti were turned out together.  He was looking out over the park, and I like how contemplative he looks in the picture!

Horse picture


Saturday, August 27, 2011

How to clean a gelding's sheath

I found a really good video on TheHorse.com, showing how to do a thorough cleaning of a horse's sheath.  I can't embed this one, but you can get to it here:

Sheath Cleaning for Male Horses: How-To Video

I have done a little sheath cleaning here and there on Panama, but nothing very thorough.  He doesn't get very dirty, probably because he drops down a lot.  When the vet examined Rondo on Tuesday, though, he said he needs to be cleaned.  I wanted to make sure I knew how to do a thorough cleaning, and that I was looking in the right place for beans (Panama never has any, so I was beginning to doubt I was doing it right!).  The video is really helpful, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is going to attempt this themselves!

Don't watch the video if this kind of thing makes you squeamish, though — it's rather explicit!


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Relaxing evening and a bareback lesson!

Last night, I met Spaghetti's owner, A, out at the barn for a playdate.  The horses didn't really play all that much, since we were in the back arena (which they don't like as much), but were pretty interested (especially Panama) in two mares in a nearby corral.  The mare's fence line was only 4 feet or so from the arena rail, so there was a distinct "look but don't touch" message going on there.  Poor Panama!  He did get to sniff noses with a calf, and I got to enjoy a lovely sunset and my friend's company, so it wasn't a wasted evening.

Today when I was grooming Panama before my lesson, I found a large, swollen bite above his shoulder.  I was hoping the saddle wouldn't interfere, but unfortunately, it was right under the edge of the knee roll, so I elected to ride bareback (with my friend's pad) for the lesson instead.  It was good, because I was wanting to do a bareback lesson sometime soon anyway, and make sure my position is all right.  I'm feeling more secure bareback, but my trainer pointed out that I need to pivot my hips forward and my shoulders back, instead of letting my back round.  I feel like a contortionist trying to get my body into the correct position!

Panama really seems to understand that he has to be a little better behaved when I'm bareback.  I don't think he always understands how to help me, being a young horse still, but he's trying.  For example, he automatically trots much slower when I'm bareback.  Occasionally he'll try to speed up, but even then he's still not going nearly as fast as he would if I were posting in the saddle.  He also spooked once today at a noise coming from the outside of the arena, where the indoor horses are turned out during the day.  I could tell he restrained himself, though, because he only jumped a little bit, and then seemed to remember himself — if I were in the saddle, I think he would have teleported sideways.

One thing I definitely need to work on is half-halting him at the trot when I'm bareback.  As she pointed out, it's got to be a difference in my body position, because when I ask him to walk, he immediately does it, with hardly any reins needed at all — he's responding to the verbal cue and my body language, signaling that I'm ready to walk.  But he's pretty much ignoring the half halts, so my trainer told me to think "walk" when I half-halt him.  Then I can let go as soon as he responds by slowing down.  It seems to work, though we'll need some more practice to get it right.

I'm enjoying riding bareback quite a bit.  I need to get my own pad like the one I'm borrowing, as I foresee myself doing a lot of bareback riding in the future!


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The satisfaction of seeing results

Working with Rondo and seeing the changes in his behavior as he learns his ground manners makes me think frequently about how far Panama has come since he was two.  I take it for granted sometimes when I give him a subtle cue and he responds by doing exactly what I want — but how long has it taken for me to get him there?  As Rondo starts to pick up on some of the more subtle cues from the ground, it makes me think of how he'll someday be like Panama.

Yesterday I had the vet out to the in-laws' place to give Rondo his next round of shots.  I also had the vet do a basic exam, since that hadn't been done yet.  My sister-in-law watched the whole time, waiting for the rodeo, I think — she hasn't "checked in" with Rondo lately, and as a result I think she still thinks of him as an untrained, potentially dangerous horse.  She hasn't seen how much progress I've made with him.  Therefore I could hear the little sound of surprise she made when the vet gave him his shots and Rondo just stood there!

As the vet was writing up my invoice, we were talking a little about Rondo and he said, "Oh, is this that colt I gelded a year ago who was half-wild?"  I said yes, and he said, "He's come a long way."  That made me feel so good to hear!  I also told the vet I was thinking of taking him, and he laughed at me and said, "I can tell."  Is it a bad sign when your vet laughs at you?

I am quite smitten with Rondo, I'm afraid.  He is so sweet, and he's learning to behave himself so nicely.  I especially like how affectionate he is.

I didn't have a lot of time to work with him after the vet left, as I had an appointment in the afternoon and my in-laws live a good hour's drive from where I live in Denver.  But I did get to groom him a little, and practiced picking up (and picking out) all four feet.  (He still fusses sometimes about giving me his feet, especially his back feet, but he's gotten to the point that when he fusses and I tell him "Quit," he usually does.)  It'll do, for now.

It got pretty hot in the afternoon, so I waited until the sun went down to go out to my barn.  I rode Panama bareback for a little bit, trying out a bareback pad that a fellow boarder said I could try.  It fit Panama decently well, which is amazing in and of itself, since he is pretty narrow through the girth (only about 850 pounds) and most bareback pads don't really fit him.  It was adjustable on both sides of the girth, which is part of why it was able to fit him, and had a nice fuzzy girth (I hate those bareback pads that cinch up with nothing but a thin nylon strap — those have to be pretty uncomfortable for the horse).  It was also pretty comfortable for me, so I think I'm going to get us our own.

I always love riding Panama after working with Rondo, because it reminds me of how much progress we've made, and that Rondo will eventually get there too.  It always amazes me how Panama seems to know when I am bareback that he has to trot a little slower, and that he has to take care of me and not act as spooky.  One day Rondo will be taking care of his rider like that (whether it's me or not), maybe even better than Panama does, because I think he's going to be a quieter horse.  I really do hope I get to see him all grown up someday!


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Boarding or horse property?

A horsey acquaintance of mine — not at my barn, but at another nearby — posted on Facebook just the other day that she was going to be looking for horse property, so that she could have her horses in her backyard.  The post made me think of how happy I am boarding now, and what a difference that is from 2 years ago.

Two years ago, Michael and I had just found out that we wouldn't be able to buy a horse property we had our eye on.  At the time, horse property was my dream, as I was sick of boarding — I'd had so many bad experiences with it.

These days, I have to say I love boarding.  Boarding somewhere nice has made such a big difference: I love the facilities, love the trail access, love the people, and no longer have to worry about the quality of the care my horse is getting.  And since I also love our house, it's a relief to no longer have conflicting desires (wanting to stay in our house, yet also wanting horse property).

The way I see it, there are a lot of potential advantages to both boarding and having horse property.  It all depends on your individual situation.  With boarding, someone else takes care of your horse (unless it's full care), which can be either good or bad, depending on the quality of the care.  It's usually a more social experience, which can also be either good or bad — good when your fellow boarders are good riding companions, bad when they bring a lot of drama to the barn.  Bigger barns usually have nicer facilities than you'll get with horse property or even smaller barns — I love having an indoor arena and direct trail access, for example.  The drawbacks are being farther away from your horse, especially if you are forced to board a great distance from where you live, and having less control over your horse's care.

But horse property can have drawbacks, too.  You have to do all the work yourself, so what you save in money you may more than make up for in labor and the costs of manure removal, having to buy hay in smaller quantities, etc.  If you don't have a very large property, you may not be able to do much riding there, and may have to trailer out in order to ride (which requires owning a truck and trailer).  But it can also be incredibly rewarding to have your horses right out your back door: You have the ability to spend more time with them, not to mention you also have more control over their care.

Like I said, I think people's preferences often have a lot to do with their situation.  Someone who has the perfect horse property is probably going to tell you that's the best way to go, whereas someone who loves where they board (like me) will prefer the superior facilities, the social aspect, etc.  Likewise, someone who has nothing but bad experience boarding will probably wish they could have horse property, and someone whose horse property isn't ideal will probably be pretty envious of their friends who board.

With that in mind, do you board or own horse property, and what do you like or dislike about your situation?  I know a lot of people on either side of the fence, both in the blogosphere and in "real" life, and I think it's interesting to see how people's situations and preferences differ, so please feel free to share!


Friday, August 19, 2011

Another lesson in the outdoor arena

For yesterday's lesson Panama and I rode in the outdoor arena again.  It was HOT yesterday — we were supposed to possibly break heat records for the day, though I didn't check to see if we did.  But by late morning, it was already getting pretty hot, especially in a big sandy arena.

For the most part Panama was much quieter yesterday than he was last week.  I think some of it may have been the timing — he seems to be quieter if I ride a few hours after mealtime, and antsier if I ride right before a meal (or, heaven forbid, while his pasturemates are eating).  We usually have our lesson around late morning, but last week it was at dinnertime, so he hadn't eaten yet — and he could see his pasturemates eating without him, which probably didn't help his mood any.  Yesterday we were back to our normal time.

We didn't do anything on lead changes, just practiced cantering and maintaining a constant speed in the outdoor arena.  Going to the left, my trainer had me working on trying to get Panama not to lean into the turns all the time — we were doing a half-arena circle, and he was just leaning more and more, so that I was sitting rather cockeyed in the saddle in order to stay balanced.  My trainer was trying to get me to correct my position and use my inside leg so that he wouldn't be so likely to lean like that, but it's obviously going to take some practice.

In the other direction, the direction he usually leans a lot, we cantered the full arena, which is probably why we didn't have any issues with leaning.  Instead, he was rushing down the straight side that faces toward his corral — running toward "home," as he likes to do.  Part of it was my position, and my trainer was correcting that going this way as well — she says I'm not keeping my back straight enough, and I'm leaning forward when he goes faster.  The other part of it was pure timing — he tends to slow down going around the narrow end of the arena, so I'm having to keep my legs on so that he doesn't break to a trot.  As soon as we get around the turn, however, he speeds up — a lot — and unless I'm ready to half-halt him right away, he gets away from me and it's not until the next turn that I can get him to slow down again.

I finally got him to do a couple of laps without speeding up, and two things that seemed to make a difference were keeping my heels down and forward, and being ready to half-halt him right as we came out of the turn (right where he usually starts to speed up).  If I can remind him right there not to speed up, he seems to do much better at maintaining a constant speed down the straight side of the arena — but it seems so counter-intuitive, because it's literally a couple of seconds after I've put my legs on to keep him in a canter.

It's funny, but I am definitely starting to think that Panama "tests poorly" — he doesn't do as well under pressure, just like a student taking a test.  Lessons tend to be higher pressure for me, but I think they are for him too, because my trainer expects a lot out of both of us.  But last Friday and Tuesday, when we rode outdoors and just had a nice, relaxed time, he hardly rushed or leaned at all.  I definitely thinks he has some anxiety during lessons, and I have to think about whether there is anything I can do to help him with this.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Rondo: Several big achievements

Yesterday I went out to my in-laws' house and worked a little with Rondo.  We had several big achievements, and all in all I think it was a very successful day.

I started out with just grooming him, since a storm was blowing in, and I know last time I tried lunging him in the wind, it didn't go so well.  But he behaved excellently while I groomed him.  The first big achievement was being able to pick all four feet with little or no hassle.  He consistently gives me the front feet and lets me pick them, and has been for a while, but I just started picking the back ones in the last couple weeks.  I'd been lifting his back feet with my hand on the front of his leg, just above the fetlock, holding them low, and letting them down as soon as he held them up without fussing.  (He's had a bad habit all along of trying to shake my hand off by kicking a little bit — not at me, but in a forward-and-back motion.)  Then, in the last couple weeks, he finally got to the point where he'd hold his back feet up still enough and long enough for me to reach over and quickly pick them — but he wasn't permitting me to switch my grip so that I was holding under his pastern and supporting his foot.

Well, yesterday he did finally permit me to switch my grip and pick his back feet out correctly.  He let me do the first one without fussing at all; with the second one, he fussed a little and was scolded for it, and when I picked it up again he let me do it without fussing.  And it wasn't a fluke, either, because later in the afternoon, when I caught him and groomed him all over again, he gave me both back feet without fussing at all.  It's like it's suddenly clicked in his brain, that this is just part of our grooming routine, and I'm not trying to hurt or annoy him!

The other big accomplishment was fly spray: I was able to spray the whole horse yesterday, FINALLY!  For weeks now, I've been spraying just a little more of him each time, pushing the boundaries of his comfort zone just a little every time.  At first all he'd permit me to spray was his front legs and shoulders, then his legs, shoulders, and neck, then the front section and the back legs.  Well, yesterday I was able to do his sides, as well, which has been a really touchy point with him — I think that's where he's most sensitive to the spraying sensation.  And he didn't threaten to rear, either — he had his head up about as far as it would go, but no bouncing on his tippy toes, like he did last time.  As I've been doing all along, I sprayed just a bit at a time, pausing to praise and pat him before continuing, and I think that also helped to keep him from going into overload.  He is beginning to see that when he doesn't fuss, it's over quickly, and then he gets praise and attention!

At that point, it was really starting to get quite windy, so I released Rondo and we went to the feed store.  I got him a few cheap grooming tools of his own, and put together a little tote for him — my in-laws' stuff is pretty disorganized and shared between all the horses, and they don't have a body brush I really like, so I wanted to get a few things just for Rondo.  I also got a lead rope for him to match his halter (which was an extra I had that was far too big for Panama, so I gave it to Rondo), which is nice because they didn't have any lead ropes I liked either (most of theirs are nylon and rather short, so I got a 10-foot cotton one).

When we got back, I caught Rondo again and groomed him all over again (except for the fly spray).  He was good with his feet again this time, but obviously showing signs of thinking, "But I already did all this!"  I wanted to lunge him before I left, though, now that the wind had calmed down.  He wasn't as good as I would have liked with the lunging — he was annoyed by having to be caught and "work" a second time in one day (even though I didn't lunge him the first time, I think he's young enough that behaving himself while being groomed is still "work" for him).  He was reluctant to trot, and on the second side, turned his butt to me a couple of times in a little show of threatening to kick.  Each time I gave the line a good yank to get him to turn his butt away from me, and drove him forward again.  After the second time of that, though, when I asked him to trot he did it right away, no fussing whatsoever, so I gave him lots of praise and let him be done with that.

I didn't blog about it at the time, but several months ago Rondo and I had a big showdown on the lunge line, with lots of bucking and kicking out to express his annoyance at being asked to trot, and then trying to run off.  He never kicked near me and never succeeded in getting away from me, but still, WAY unacceptable.  That's when I decided that I was rushing him a bit, and the basic ground manners needed to be more firmly in place before we worked on lunging.

Yesterday was the first time since that showdown when he actually didn't want to work when I asked for it.  He's usually pretty willing, if uncertain.  I thought that the fact that he didn't kick out yesterday was a really good sign.  He's showing signs of learning what's appropriate and what's not, and having disciplined him for even threatening to kick yesterday, I don't think I'll continue to have problems with it.

I'm enjoying seeing the changes in Rondo as I work with him more and more.  He's becoming much more respectful and responsive, and showing signs of turning into a really sweet pocket pony!


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Riding with friends is more fun!

This evening I met Spaghetti's owner, A, and her friend E out at the barn.  E is going to school to be a vet, but needs more "animal time" — I guess they have to clock a certain number of hours of vet time and animal time.

Anyway, we turned Panama and Spaghetti out together for a bit first, but they were rather uninterested in playing until A brought out the whip.  Then they ran a bit!  I was surprised they weren't more fired up, considering we'd had some rainstorms and cooler weather today.

When we rode, Panama was pretty good, but Spaghetti was being a pill.  Apparently he ran away when A took his halter off to try to bridle him, and she had to go catch him.  (I missed all the fun, since she tacks up at her trailer, on the other end of the property from the cross ties where I tack up.)  So she lunged him a little bit before riding.

We rode outside, since Panama needs more practice in that arena so that he'll stop rushing so much there.  Someone had left a couple of folded-up lawn chairs leaning against the shelter, just outside of the rail, and Panama was using them as an excuse to act silly.  I was riding him back and forth along the rail there until he stopped reacting to the chairs when A got on Spaghetti.  He started showing a fear of the chairs too, so A got down, brought one of the chairs in, and rubbed it all over his body before putting it back.  He was fine after that, but considering how calm he was when he had a chair balanced on his saddle, I think it was rather more silliness than real fear.  And considering the other naughty things he was doing, such as rushing across the arena to try to catch up with Panama (and getting in our way twice), I think it was just Spaghetti being a pill.

I decided to try something else then, and brought a chair into the arena, opened it up, and sat it in the middle of the arena.  Panama hardly even reacted when I opened it up while he was sniffing it, and had no problem walking or trotting by it.  Spaghetti just wanted to bite it.

After confirming that our horses are not actually scared of lawn chairs, A's friend E rode Spaghetti a little bit, and he was a pill for E, too.  Spaghetti quickly figured out that E didn't know what he was doing, and decided that moving forward was optional.  A had to use the lunge whip to get him moving, and then some more to get a trot out of him.  I guess that's better than what Panama might do with a new person on his back — I worry about him spooking or bolting, and therefore my trainer and I are the only ones who have ever ridden him — but it was still pretty funny.  We had a good time laughing and goofing around in the arena, and Panama and I got lots of walk, trot, and canter work in with very little rushing.

We stayed out there until it was nearly dark, and then put our horses up.  It was a nice evening!  Somehow, riding with friends — even when we don't do much — is always more fun than riding alone.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Plugged in

I remember, last summer, going for a trail ride with a teenage girl from my barn.  The entire ride, she had one hand on the reins while she texted with the other hand.  I was so amused, because I can't imagine being so preoccupied with my phone that I wouldn't want to enjoy a ride on my horse, but I was also appalled to think of how unprepared she would be if her horse spooked while she was texting.

I couldn't help but think of that girl, texting on a trail ride, when I saw this article about mounted police getting handheld computers that strap onto their horses in front of the saddle.  The computers allow them to look up license plates and stuff like that, just like the computer in a police car.  Obviously it's not the same thing as texting, and most of those horses are pretty bombproof and unlikely to spook, but it still amuses me to think of officers tapping away at computers mounted on their horses' necks.

Maybe I should look for a way to strap a book to my horse's neck.  Kind of like how people read while they run on the treadmill, right?  Think of how much more riding time I'd have if I could multitask like that!


Friday, August 12, 2011

Old goals in sight

After Panama's naughty behavior yesterday, I was quite pleased to find him sleepy and relaxed when I went out to ride this morning.  I just barely missed the trail ride — they were nearly ready to leave when I arrived — but I was expecting that because I had a doctor's appointment beforehand, and figured there was a 50/50 chance I wouldn't make it in time.

Panama stood at the gate and hollered for me while they got ready to leave, so I was expecting him to be antsy when I tacked up — he hates being left behind.  Instead, he was half asleep in the cross ties.  I was feeling a little tired too, so I took my time grooming.  I can't help but wonder if he knows when I'm in a hurry or under pressure and when I'm relaxed — well, I know he does, but I wonder if it affects his mood too?  Yesterday I'd been in a hurry to tack up before my lesson, and I can be slightly anxious during a lesson because I'm trying so hard, but today I took my time and rode with the attitude "We'll just do whatever we feel like doing," and Panama behaved like a completely different horse.

Ultimately, we didn't ride for very long, maybe 25 minutes.  We walked, trotted, and cantered in each direction in the outdoor arena, and I worked on pushing my heels down and forward like my trainer had me doing yesterday.  With Panama so relaxed, rushing wasn't a problem and we were able to maintain a steady pace pretty easily.  He also wasn't throwing his inside shoulder in as bad, either at the canter or when we trotted a few serpentines, so that pleased me as well.

He was still very relaxed, so I decided to ride him in the obstacle course and the field behind the outdoor arena.  We went over the practice bridge a few times until he didn't try stepping sideways off of it, navigated a few of the other obstacles, and then walked one lap in each direction around the track.  He was a little bit more alert for this part — at the far end of the track is where he spooked and bolted almost exactly a year ago, resulting in a pretty bad fall that has had me nervous about riding back there ever since.  In fact, I think today was our first time back there alone since that incident!

I probably should have ridden around the track for a little longer — say, a few laps in each direction instead of just one — but I'm just glad I conquered my fears and rode him back there at all.  I figure stopping on a positive note was a good thing, in any case, and I can make next time longer.  I'd like to gradually increase our time riding in the field, and the distance we can go comfortably.  Last year I wanted to eventually get Panama to the point that I could ride him on the trail alone — for a while I lost sight of that goal, because of all the falling I did, but hopefully as Panama and I both regain our confidence, that will once again become a possibility for us.


Heels down, shoulders back

Today's lesson was late this afternoon, at a different time than usual, and we ended up riding outside in the bigger arena instead of in the (smaller) indoor arena.  It's been a couple weeks since we've ridden outside, and there's more space, and Panama was probably a bit antsy knowing that his dinner was being delayed.  In any case, he was being a bit naughty — wanting to trot quickly or starting to canter when he wasn't being asked, not responding to half-halts, etc.  Toward the end of the lesson, my trainer actually got on him for a few minutes to get him straightened out.  After that, he was a little better for me, and we finished up with a decent trot and canter in each direction that didn't involve him trying to speed up.

Part of the difference when I got back on was a suggestion my trainer made — I was riding in my two-point, and she said to push against his neck a little with my hands.  It was making him slow down a little for her, because he was thinking about this new thing she was doing, and so she suggested I try it too to see if it would work for me.

I don't know if it worked or if he was getting over the new sensation, and I wasn't really pushing on his neck so much as pushing against the idea of it (I wasn't keen on putting any weight on his neck, in case he put his head down again like he did last week).  What it definitely did do, though, was to make me put my shoulders back and sit up a little taller in my two-point.  That had nearly the same effect of making him slow down, because it gave me a little better control and redistributed my weight so both of us were better balanced.

The other thing we were working on was correcting the position of my lower legs.  I tend to have a problem with getting my heels down — at best they are usually level.  Today my trainer was pestering me about not just putting my heels down, but pushing them forward — apparently part of my problem is that I'm letting my lower leg come too far back.  That seemed to help, though it did make posting harder — I'll need to practice to get used to using the muscles differently (or maybe it's different muscles altogether; I don't know).

Anyway, it was an exhausting and somewhat frustrating lesson, but at the same time I felt like I made good progress on some issues with my position that have been plaguing me for a while — I just had to work for it (and will have to continue to work at it, until it becomes more second nature for me).


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Rondo shows improvement

Young bay roan gelding

Yesterday I went down to my in-laws' house to work with Rondo a little more.  Most of our "work" consists of tying, grooming, and working on him permitting things such as picking his feet and putting on fly spray.  I am starting to (very slowly) lunge him again, though — mainly focusing on teaching the commands.  I'll start using it as exercise a little more once he starts getting the hang of it a little more (and once I no longer feel that our grooming routine is taking up so much of his attention span), but right now "short and sweet" is our theme.

Rondo was pretty easy to catch this time, though he did throw his head up and back up once or twice, trying to avoid the halter.  I always keep the halter on his face, move with him, and tell him sternly to "quit."  (My mother-in-law is under the impression that continuing to try when he resists haltering would be "threatening" to him, so she usually lets the halter drop and waits for him to allow her to try again, which is why I think he still attempts this trick with me periodically — it works so well with her!)

Once I had him haltered, though, he was pretty excited about what we were going to do, so I had to work a bit on leading, stopping and backing him every time he got ahead of me.  I tied him in our usual spot and we started out with a nice little grooming session with a rubber curry I'd brought, one I no longer use on Panama.  He seemed to like it all right.  I haven't started grooming his legs yet, but I think I'm going to start fairly soon, and see if maybe that helps to get him used to having his feet handled more.

Next I picked his feet.  At first, he fussed a bit — he just had them trimmed the day before, and was probably remembering that.  He'd done better than usual with the trimming, my mother-in-law said, but it still sounds like he was a bit of a prick.  He has a habit of rearing to try to get out of a situation — I don't think he does it because he's full-out panicking, but to try to get something that worries and scares him to stop.  In other words, I think it's pretty deliberate, and I need to get him to stop before he hurts someone.  I think I'm going to try to be there for his next farrier appointment, because considering my mother-in-law's attitude about haltering, I'll bet she isn't exactly demanding good before from him during trimming.

Anyway, I told him to quit his fussing, and was able to pick both front feet without any problems.  Then I moved to the back.  At first, he really fussed, forgetting what we'd learned in my last few visits before the farrier came — picking up his foot and holding it quietly, even if it's low.  He kicked and managed to shake me off, and got a whack on the rump and a growled "Quit!" for that.  Then we tried again, and he remembered, and held each back foot up quietly for me in turn.

After giving lots of praise and rubbing his neck, we did each back foot again, and this time he held each one up long enough for me to pick them out.  It's still a little awkward, and like I said, he's holding them very low — but I don't care, because I'm quite all right with taking things slow, and letting him find his comfort zone.  As he gets more comfortable with me picking his feet, I'll start working on lifting them higher, which should help with the farrier, too.

(I should also note that I'm not too impressed with what I've heard about their farrier.  My mother-in-law told me that when Rondo misbehaves, he corrects him, then "rubs on him" and makes friends before going back to work.  Rondo is probably thinking, "Well, getting into trouble isn't so bad if I get petted afterward."  Also, this isn't directly related, but I fear it demonstrates his attitude toward horses: Apparently the farrier told my sister-in-law that her new horse should have "gone to the glue factory" instead of being rescued.  WTF?  Who says that to a client?  I would have asked him to leave right then and there!)

We also made some major progress with the fly spray.  I was able to spray his legs, neck, and shoulders like last time, and although he was fairly nervous, I sprayed once or twice on his ribcage on each side.  I also sprayed his back legs, and he didn't seem to mind that, so apparently his barrel is the only place where he's still ultra sensitive about the fly spray.  That's okay — each time gets better.  I can also tell that he's starting to control his urge to rear with me — he starts puffing up in front, like he's bouncing on his tippy toes, really thinking about rearing, but a tug on the line and a "Quit" brings him back to earth before he achieves liftoff.  This is a vast improvement over the first time we worked with fly spray, where there was no bouncing on his tippy toes — he just went straight up, with little or no warning.

I'm pretty impressed with how patient Rondo is when he's tied.  I can walk away, even out of sight, and he's fine — a big achievement for a baby who hasn't been tied at all until this year.  He does have a habit of untying himself (he likes to play with the lead, and fairly quickly figured out that he could liberate himself) but even after he's done so, he usually just stands there with the lead dragging on the ground.

Finally, I did a little bit of lunging, only about ten minutes' worth — right now I'm focusing on teaching what walk, trot, and whoa mean.  When I had difficulties lunging him a couple of months ago, it was because he wasn't understanding what "trot" meant.  I tend to get "louder" with my movements when I'm asking for an increased pace, and a couple of months ago we had some issues with what this meant.  He'd resist moving into a trot at first, and then buck and kick and canter, like my "louder" movements had accumulated somehow in his brain and as a result he got frustrated and gave me way more than I asked for.

Last time, I found that if I trotted a little when I was asking him to, he figured it out much faster, and without the "buildup" he was exhibiting before.  This time I didn't have to trot — he's starting to understand what I'm asking for, and gave it to me without much fuss (though I did have to ask a few times in each direction before he picked up on it).  Each time, I kept him trotting for only a brief spell, then asked for a walk before he decided to walk on his own.  He's fairly good with the walk and whoa commands, so I didn't focus on those as much, and once we trotted a few times in each direction I called it a day.

I have to say that Rondo's personality is really growing on me.  He's more independent and less eager to please than Panama, but he's also calmer and more affectionate in some ways.  Last time I blogged about him, I described something he's started doing, where he puts his nose to mine and breathes my breath.  He'll do that for as long as I let him sometimes.  Now he's doing it in other places too — he puts his nose to my hair, my ear, my neck, or my shoulder, and just holds it there, or moves it slowly from place to place, like he's breathing my scent.  Other times, when he puts his nose on my face, I'm fairly certain he's "kissing" me — I like to kiss his nose, and I think he might be returning the show of affection.  Sometimes he moves his lips a little, but he knows he gets scolded if he tried to lip me or bite me, so usually he keeps them still.  It's very sweet.

I got a few good pictures of him — the one below shows his striking color really well.  He's just over 2, if you can believe it, and already a good looking horse — I think he's going to be big, too, since he's already about 15.2hh.  It's the picture at the top of the post, though, that I think shows his personality the best.  Doesn't he just look sweet?

Young bay roan gelding


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Another late-night ride

Tonight hubby and I headed out to the barn for another late-night ride (well, I rode, while he played around on his iPhone — as usual).  When we arrived, one of the teenage girls who boards at the barn was riding Panama's corralmate, Sammy — she rides him sometimes for his owner.  Sammy is a year younger than Panama and, according to the girl, has two speeds: I-don't-want-to and RUNRUNRUN.  Tonight was the latter!

I was originally going to ride bareback, but decided when I saw Sammy was being ridden at the same time that a saddle would be best — I never know whether another horse is going to get Panama all fired up, especially when he hasn't been ridden in a little while (last time I rode was Thursday's lesson).  Sure enough, Panama was a bit excited at first, but I was pleased when he settled into his work fairly quickly (albeit with more of a spring in his step than usual for a nighttime ride).  This was especially impressive considering Sammy was behaving more or less like he was being chased: He was cantering with his body all bunched up and his head way up in the air, and his trot looked bouncy and disorganized.

Despite Sammy's crazy-baby routine, though, Panama did just fine.  He was a bit more alert than usual and shied several times at silly things, but other than that we managed just fine.  He even overcame seeing all the arena doors open when it was dark outside (I don't usually open the doors at night, so this was apparently a big deal) and walking underneath the huge, noisy fan above the doors into the indoor barn.  (The fan sounds like a jet engine, and last year Panama wouldn't walk into the barn when it was on.  Tonight he didn't hesitate at all going in, and only briefly going out.)  It was a good ride — short, but with lots of trotting and cantering, so that my legs have that good-sore feeling now.  I'll bet we'll both sleep well tonight!


Monday, August 8, 2011

3 different types of animal hoarders

I didn't ride Friday or over the weekend, as I was quite busy doing other things, so no news to share in that area.  Last night, however, I did see an interesting article on my local newspaper's website:

You may be surprised by the people who hoard animals

The article cites an expert who has described 3 different types of animal hoarders:

  1. The overwhelmed caregiver, who has the best intentions but has gotten overwhelmed for some reason, or has chosen to get more animals as an attempt to self-medicate
  2. The rescue hoarder, who thinks they are rescuing the animals, that their animals are better off with them, and often operates a "rescue" (quotes because these supposed rescues are often not very rescue-like, if you look a little more closely)
  3. The exploiter hoarder, who has animals in order to feel dominant and knowledgeable about something, and "is indifferent to the harm they cause"

I think this is interesting, since I know people who are boarderline hoarders — not necessarily to the point of the worst stories you hear, but definitely having more animals than they can care for, financially or emotionally — and I can pick out which general category they fall under.  I also suspect that some hoarders fall under multiple categories, such as the rescue hoarder who contacted me months ago, trying to get publicity and donations, who was obviously hoarding in an attempt to self-medicate (when I called her on some of the inconsistencies in her email, she went off on how horrible her life was, how her emotionally abusive husband controlled the money in order to keep her from taking the dogs and leaving, etc., and my only thought was, Then what business do you have trying to run a rescue!).

What about you?  Have you known hoarders, or even people who have tendencies in that direction, and if so can you recognize them in one of the 3 categories the article describes?


Thursday, August 4, 2011

A lesson, flying changes, and my 16th fall

It's been a while since I counted up my falls, so I had to go back and verify the number — I couldn't remember whether today made 16 or 17.  It turned out to be my 16th, though, since my trainer said that it didn't count as a fall when Panama spooked out from under me at the lake last year (I landed on my feet, or rather, on one foot).

Anyway, during today's lesson we worked more on flying lead changes.  We are still using a pole to get Panama to change both back and front at the same time, and I'm working on my timing (I tend to want to ask him to change half a stride too early).  He does better when we change from a right lead to a left lead, since left is his stronger lead — he tends to want to fall in with his inside shoulder when we canter to the right, which makes him dive inward when he switches to a right lead — so it was when we finished on his "good" side and switched to his "bad" side that we started having trouble.

The lead change before I fell, Panama put his head down after changing his lead, and let his right shoulder dive inward, so I should have been prepared for him to do it again.  But the next time he managed to get me pretty badly off-balance.  I was way too far forward, and my trainer said he was crow-hopping in his canter (though, when I think about it, I think pulling me off-balance put him off-balance too — even though my trainer said he didn't trip, I still think he was probably trying to compensate for all my weight being forward, as it felt like he was scrambling for footing).  I heard her yelling at me to sit tall, and I tried, but then he dug in with the next stride, and I just came off.  It wasn't a bad fall — I just landed on my butt, and I was able to watch Panama canter a few more strides, then stop and turn around.  He walked back over to me with his head almost to the ground, looking apologetic and maybe a bit confused.  He even walked right up to me and sniffed me while I was still sitting there spitting sand out of my mouth, as if asking me, "What are you doing on the ground, Mom?"

He remained apologetic while I mounted — my trainer laughed because he just stood there with his head down, like he felt bad and was trying extra hard to be good.  We trotted and then cantered a bit before I asked him to go over the pole and change his lead again, and that time was perfect — a clean change in both front and back, no pulling on me or putting my head down.  My trainer cheered and said, "He's done!" so we quit on that note.

Hmmm...  Maybe I need to fake a fall on occasion or something, since he seems to feel guilty afterward and makes an extra effort to behave!


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Lunging Rondo, riding Panama

On Monday I had a chance to go over to my in-laws' house and work with Rondo some more.  When I first walked out into the pasture, he started to walk away from me — possibly remembering me walking him down last time — but when I scolded him, he stopped walking and waited for me to halter him.  I'm hoping that means he remembers how much work it was (and how ineffective it was) when he ran from me last time.

I started out, as usual, by grooming him — I'm trying to develop a routine he can recognize and feel comfortable with.  This time, however, I curried him before brushing him.  This was a first and I wasn't sure how well he'd do with it, as I could only find a plastic curry.  Panama hates those (he's really ticklish), but Rondo couldn't have cared less.  This is a really good sign since he was still jumpy about having his hindquarters brushed as recently as just a few weeks ago.

After brushing his body, mane, and tail, I picked his front feet and held up the back for a little longer than last time.  I didn't try picking them yet, as he still tried kicking or shaking me off with the first rear foot, and I'm trying to enforce the idea that he gets them back when he holds them still for me.  When he gets that, I'll start picking his hind feet again.

After grooming, I put some fly spray on him.  He's doing better with it now — still tense, but no rearing!  I sprayed a little farther than last time — each front leg, but also his chest, each side of his neck, and his shoulders.  Once he thought about freaking out, and thought about it hard enough that he almost started to, but he controlled himself when I told him, "Quit."  Next time we'll work on spraying his sides and back!

I also lunged him briefly.  It was the third time I've lunged him, and the first time since he freaked out earlier in the spring (which I didn't blog about).  I decided then that I was rushing him, asking him to lunge before he'd even really learned his ground manners, so I went back to basics.  Monday, however, I decided that he was relaxed enough, and that he's been minding me well enough, to give it another go.

He walks in a circle around me with very little effort, but he's reluctant to trot, so we worked on figuring out that command on Monday.  I tend to move with the horse a lot — less when I want them to slow down, and more when I want them to move faster — and I found that with Rondo, it helped him to figure out what I wanted more quickly if I took exaggerated trot steps when I was asking him to trot.  It probably sounds silly, but hey, whatever communicates what I want!  And actually, I find it rather interesting that he can look at what I'm doing with my legs, and translate that into his own movement.

I didn't lunge him for long, but I was sure to do both sides evenly.  I'm already noticing a preference for going to the left.  We'll see if that changes as he learns.

I'm pretty impressed with Rondo's progress.  He's as gentle as a kitten with me now — when I worked on leading him on Monday, I only had to correct him once for not staying with me.  Whether we're walking or just standing there, he always gives me a respectful amount of space — which is great, considering his size (he's already about 15.2hh, and still growing!)  But what I find most endearing about him is how much he likes to nuzzle me.  He loves to put his lips on my shoulder, in the crook of my neck, or on my ear.  Sometimes he'll but his mouth right up to my mouth, so that he's breathing my breath as I breathe out, and just hold it there.  He has tried lipping at my ear once or twice (I put a stop to it immediately), but has never tried biting me.  Rather, he seems to be exploring or showing affection.  It's very slow and gentle the way he does it, and so sweet!

I do like Rondo a lot, and I am pleased with his progress, but don't think I've forgotten Panama!  I made sure to get out to my barn and ride him in the evening.  He was so happy to see me, and nickered when I brought out his bridle.  (What better sign that he loves his work?)  I practiced cantering in the indoor, then did some trot work, riding all in all for about 30 minutes.

Usually when I ride at night, just my husband is there with me, but Monday night his mom came, too.  The funny thing is — and this will tell you something about Panama's personality — Panama was totally showing off for her.  Panama lived at my brother-in-law's house until he was a little over 2 years old, and she was often the one to feed him treats or help with him (she was there for his gelding, and helped whenever he had wounds that needed treatment — he got tangled up in a fence when he was just barely 2, before he came here, so he saw a lot of her then!).  He's also seen her a few times since coming here, but not often, so I think he knew that her being there was a rare occurrence.  He was definitely excited!  The best way I can describe it is to say he had tons of energy in all of his gaits.  This is noteworthy because usually when I ride at night, he is very relaxed.  The first time I asked for a trot, he really popped up into it, which I corrected him for — but even once he stopped doing that kind of thing, I could totally tell he was showing off.

Riding Panama with my mother-in-law there caused me to try to see him through her eyes.  When he was living with my brother-in-law, he was fugly (I think his growth was stunted in his first year), wild, and virtually unmanageable.  Now, he's sleek, gorgeous, extremely well-behaved, and he and I share a level of communication that none of us could have predicted four years ago.  I couldn't have done it without my trainer, of course — not just the initial training she did with him, but also (and probably most importantly) the guidance she has given me over the years — but to my mother-in-law, the transformation must be virtually miraculous.

I'm very proud of how far Panama and I have come, and though I'm not supposed to be wanting to keep Rondo, I can't help but wonder what he'd be like in four years if I did keep him.


Monday, August 1, 2011

Scientific evidence of animal emotion

I wrote the last post, Do horses feel emotion?, last week.  Amusingly, over the weekend we went to the bookstore, and I saw on the magazine rack in the cafe a magazine entitled "Amazing Animals" — apparently a special edition of U.S. News & World Report.

One of the magazine's articles is about advances in scientific studies on animal intelligence.  As a sidebar or a related mini-story, there was this article:

Article in Amazing Animals about whether animals have emotions

According to the article, science is beginning to reconsider whether animals have emotions.  Examples are given regarding emotion-based behavior in elephants, chimps, and other animals.  No horses, but Temple Grandinicon is mentioned.  I mentioned in my last post that times have changed since we thought that animals were incapable of feeling pain, and suggested that in the future, the idea that we ever doubted they had feelings might be just as shocking as the thought of operating on them without anesthesia is to us today.

Perhaps that future is closer than I realized when I wrote that.  It'll take time before science's findings begin to impact people's everyday way of thinking, but this article gives me hope!