Monday, December 1, 2008

Happy holidays and an update

I haven't posted in a while. It's been too crazy. First I was dealing with the aftermath of a bad fall I took on Thanksgiving morning. I had a great ride on December in the arena. We were practicing "shoulders in" at all three gaits and she was terrific. Then took her out in the field. Now she's gotten a bit skittish going into the field before, but once we're out there she's been fine. She had never bucked, never bolted, nothing too dumb, just that something is scaring me and I have to stare at it and prance around thing they sometimes do. I can feel her energy when she does it and she scares me a little bit because she feels like she could explode and rear. Nothing scares me more than rearing. But I had no reason to think she would. I should also mention when I got her she was a bit underweight. She was gaining it back slowly but when it started to cool down I was worried about her holding her weight in the cold. I upped her from 3 big flakes of grass mix hay to 4 flakes and increased her supplemental feed from 2 lbs to 4 lbs per day. She gained back the weight quickly and looks great (see the pics...yay no ribs poking out and no swayback) but I think she's too confined (in a stall with a paddock and daily turn out for only a couple of hours) to keep from going a bit stir crazy. Anyway, I got her out in the field and asked for a nice easy canter. She was fine for a couple of strides, then tossed her head a bit. I sank into my saddle to lower my center and push her into her bridle. The next thing I knew I was flying through the air and I have NO idea how. I didn't feel her buck, I didn't feel her slip. I didn't see or feel how I came off over her head. One second we were fine and the next I was landing on my tail bone. If I were a smaller girl I might have bounced back up but I've gained some weight in the last few years and I swear I didn't think I was going to get up. My whole lower back hurt so bad that I felt like my legs were paralyzed. I also got my finger caught in the reins, see pic, and may have fractured it slightly. The nail turned black along the cuticle and hurt so bad I couldn't bend it. I managed to roll to my hands and knees and there I stayed while December jumped around behind me and then took off. There I stayed while someone else caught my horse and dragged her out of the field for me. I was finally able to get up, go home and take lots of ibruprophen washed down with champagne. I managed to make Thanksgiving dinner but there was crying throughout the day as the pain increased. This was my second fall in six months and it kinda freaked me out.

I took me two weeks to feel like I wanted to ride again and I realize part of it was just fear. I did it though and the first time was pretty good. I even took her back out in the field at a walk. I realized I've never been nervous about a horse before. I tend to be in the moment and not worried about if they will act up because I've always felt like a nervous rider increases the chances of a freak out. Like Cesear Milan says, you have to be live in the moment. She was pretty good that first time I rode again and Tax was great. The very next weekend, I rode her and a friend rode Tax. They'd both been lunged and worked in the round pen and we were just going to walk a couple of laps around the arena. December spooked at the barn owner walking out to the field and tried to take off with me. I'm a pretty balanced rider and I can normally sit through most of their nonsence. As I was "disengaging her hip" to keep her from taking off I felt Tax, who NEVER spooks spaz out beside me as a reaction to her. It all happened so fast and my friend didn't have a chance. That time she fell off Tax. I've never had anyone fall off my horse but my sister and she SO does not count because I know she can handle it. It was the scariest thing I think I've been through even worse than falling myself. This past weekend I tried again. I started by longing December until I thought she started to tire out. I also rode her in the round pen until I thought I had a sense of her mood and then we moved to the arena. The second we got out there I could feel her tense. She felt explosive and hot. I rode her for a while and things were going okay but I was not doing anything I thought would let her mind wander. My sister asked what was wrong and I told her December was tense. She asked if I wanted her to ride her because she isn't afraid of the spaz and is good a tiring them out. Kim tried to ride December around the fence and I think that horse spooked in every corner of the damn arena but I have to give Kim credit. She hung in there and worked her in small circles in each corner until the brat figured out that she was just going to have to get over it. I did finally get back on her and she was better but I still had to sit through some silliness with her tossing her head and jumping around when I first asked for a canter. Sigh. I wanted to post this next pic as a reminder of why she's worth it.

My thoughts are that a) I've never owned a mare before and she's in heat. Maybe that's part of her attitude, b) I need to figure out a maintenance diet where she can maintain what she's gained with out acting like a 2 year old who's been give a diet of Snickers and locked in a small bathroom, and I need to get her more exercise even though it's winter and there are no lights.





Next, I need to update on Promise but no time today!!













Tuesday, November 25, 2008

This has been what my life is like for the last 2 weeks...

I was cleaning Tax's stall and I left a full muck bucket in the isle out front. Then a few minutes later I backed out of his stall with another full bucket in a wheelbarrow. I had totally forgotten the first bucket which I tripped over and fell backwards into. I realized I had dragged the wheelbarrow on top of myself somehow, but it was still in the doorway of the stall so I couldn't move it forward or tip it over with the weight of the full bucket I had up in it. I had also twisted slightly to the side because of the inital ass wetting shock of sitting in a full bucket of horse pee wetted shavings and couldn't reach the ground to get enough leverage to get unstuck. I thought I was going to be stuck there all night but about the time I was wondering if I could manage to reach my cell phone in my pocket without killing myself to call the barn owner I managed to wriggle free. I was laying on the dirty barn floor convulsing like a heroin junkie three days past his last fix admidst hysterical bursts of laughter, but I was so happy to be free of the bucket deathtrap and so thrilled no one else had to see that little episode. I have no idea how I didn't spill either bucket 'cause it was close a couple of times. I bruised my knee and leg all up and somehow cut my lip on my tooth. Ta Da.

The morals to this story? Beware of ninja muck buckets! They're everywhere.... AND maybe I should be required to wear a helmet just to get my daily activies completed.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Injured!

Tax cut his leg some time ago across the front of his front left fetlock. It never looked serious so I cleaned it up and just left it to heal. So Thursday of last week I was out at the ranch and cleaned the stalls and rode one of the barn owners horses. I turned Tax out a for a bit and he seemed odd but to tell the truth I was in a hurry and didn't look him over like I should have. I did notice the scab seemed thick so I called my sister to ask her to bring out some bag balm to see if we could soften it up but I didn't touch or inspect his leg. My sister got there after I'd left because I had to pick up my kids from daycare and I was already late. When she went to put the bag balm on his leg he jerked it away from her. On closer inspection it was swollen and warm and obviously painful. Argh...I can't believe I missed that. My life the last few days has been busy with soaking, cleaning and wrapping his poor leg but I do think that the infection that may have been starting is gone. It's no longer swollen or warm although it still seems to be painful to the touch. The scab is gone though and the cut doesn't look serious at all. I think it will heal nicely now. I just can't figure out how he did it but both he and December have these strange sores across the front of both fetlocks. The only thing I can think is maybe they're knocking them into the door frame going into their stalls from the paddock but the wood is worn and rounded and doesn't look dangerous. Sigh...it's always something isnt' it?

Monday, November 3, 2008

I may always celebrate Veteran's Day with a tribute ride!

Veteran's Day was awesome. I had the day off and went to the ranch early to ride both of my horses. Now with the days so short I rarely get to both in one day.



December - Warmed up at the trot and worked on relaxing into the bit. I'm finally really getting this collection thing and I can feel the difference now. Having December is a blessing. I realized that I've never owned a horse that wasn't totally green and I've never really understood the cues for things like 'shoulders in' because I've been too busy trying to teach them to a horse that doesn't know how to do it. On December I can really play with getting the cues perfect and feeling where my hands and hips should be. I can totally feel it when she gets it right. Oh and lead changes! Wow! She's so light in her movement it's a thing of beauty to ride her lead changes. So after the trot work my sister had brought Promise into the arena to warm him up. I got an e-mail on my Blackberry from work that I had to answer. Promise was being really good and consistant, and Kim was excited which got December a little worked up. I just wanted her to stand still for a few while I responded to the stupid e-mail but she wasn't having it. Kim and Promise were cantering and she wanted to too so she was being all pissy. Finally when I finished Kim asked us to go out around the track in the field behind the arena. I always love going out in the field to change pace a little, however, December decided the other day there is a horse eating monster in the form of a filled black trash bag near the entrance for the field. She went past it reasonably sanely when we started out though and both horses went just fine around the field. When we got back to the area with the trash bag Kim and I were talking about turning based on leg/seat pressure without using much rein. She wanted to see if she could get Promise to take a few steps turning on his haunches. He got a little confused because he still thinks legs only mean go forward faster so when she blocked his forward movement a couple of times he got mad and bolted forward a couple of steps. All-in-all it wasn't a big deal EXCEPT....OMG THAT TRASH BAG MUST HAVE TRIED TO EAT HIM. So I felt December bunch up for some kind of explosion and I swear I thought it was going to be a rear. Nothing scares me more than rearing. So the next thing I know she's standing there with all four feet on the ground and I'm bear-hugging her entire neck while my sister laughs at me. Apparently the terror on my face over the tinest crop hop in the history of the world was incredibly funny. When did I get to be such a chicken?

Tax - I was running late for lunch with my kiddo but I wanted to get Tax ridden before I left. He's like riding a different horse these days. I'm still going to have to post about trying to teach the beast to cancer sometime. So now that I finally got the collection/relaxion thing he really warms up and gets on the bit much faster now then he used to. He's starting to get much lighter and will actually canter instead of a full tilt gallop. We did our trot work and his trot to canter transisitions were amazing. He was right there everytime I asked and light and round. He doesn't hold it long yet but still it's happening. Transisitoning down was even good and he has a bad habit of backing down into the fastest extended trot I've ever ridden and it was taking him forever to go back to relaxed and collected. This time within a few strides (and without any pulling on my part) he was back down to a nice forward but normal trot. Yay! I love this horse. Even if he isn't the world's greatest show horse, he's sweet and honest and has more personality than most people I know. He's also a great cuddler and he's made me take more time to stop for scritches which I'm not always good about. He loves to be in your pocket. I think I found a forever horse.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I wanna go to a show!

There is a brand new open show in a couple of weekends near my house. I really want to go, but I'd have so much work to do between now and then. My trailer needs a new jack, my horses need serious hair cuts and I don't have show clothes or boots yet. *sigh*

Monday, October 20, 2008

Longest week of this month

Last week was a long week. My sister decided to go out of town the weekend before last so we spent most of last week in a flury to try to work enough hours that I didn't have too much to do while she was gone. We work about 5.5 hours each week at the ranch we board the horses at. It's getting harder now that the days are so short. And then I realized I was going to have to go pick up a load of hay (20 bales) by myself. I made my husband help with the unloading so he was all grumpy too. My hay guy freaked me out while I was there because there was a big fire that I drove past last week. Apparently, the guy who started it was hauling hay on a trailer like mine and the wheels overheated and caught fire. He pulled over and it set the field next to him ablaze. Well, then...I told him do NOT put as much on my trailer as he did that guy and then I drove the 8 miles to the barn at about 30 mph.



Last Wednesday night I got an idea I was going to work with my sister's horse, Promise, on standing still for mounting. It's been an issue since we got him. He just doesn't like anyone that close to his butt. I took him in the round pen with just a bridle and lunged him for a bit. Then I stopped him and tried to mount from the fence because I'm too short (a whopping 5'1") to get on him without. Each time he moved I would hop down and lunge him a few laps. Finally he stood still! Until I got on that is.... The minute I was on his back he took off bucking like a rodeo bronc. I'm pretty good at sitting through bucks if I'm in a saddle but there was no way I was staying on him. I landed on my shoulder and hit my head. It was the first time I've fallen off since I started riding again 5 months ago. I was angry but I was also concerned. He has never been anything but quiet when we've ridden him in the past. Normally, once you're on you're golden. I picked myself up (falling sucks a lot more at 32 then it did at 18) and started over. I lunged, I tried to mount, I lunged again. Finally he stayed completely still again while I very quietly threw my leg over him. I gently sat on his back. I felt him tense all over and I just stayed quiet and still until I finally felt him relax. He sighed a big horsey sigh. I asked him to move foward and had him walk a slow circle around the round pen then I hopped down and ended for the evening. I was really worried because the bucking didn't seem like him.

The next day I got of work early and decided to go back out to ride. I noticed Promise hadn't eaten all of his hay which was strange. I cleaned stalls and got Tax tacked up and ready to go. We had a awesome ride. It was my third attempt at really focusing on soft hands and he popped into a relaxed trot almost immediately. We worked a bit on backing and then a couple of canter strides and ended on a good note. When I was done hosing him down I went back and check on Promise who seemed a little sullen. I had just read a great article about turning horses out together so they get some "herd" time. My poor guys are in their stalls all night and get turned out alone every other day. I decided to take all of them and turn them out together. Their stalls are right next to each other and they know each other. I guess I need to read more about how to introduce them in the open like that. The boys got into a serious fight and I had to grab a lunge whip and go break it up. I don't see that Tax landed any kicks but he decidedly won the war as Promise crept off by himself at the other end of the pen to stand in the corner. Promise on the other hand won the battle and landed one good kick with both feet in Tax's side. He's got a welt from one foot and the other hoof scraped a big chunk of his hair off. *sigh* I won't be trying that again soon, and I kind feel like an idiot. Their stalls are next to each other, and they stand in the attached run nose to nose whenever they aren't turned out so I wasn't expecting an all out battle. It's not like they don't know each other. Once I decided they were going to stand in their own corners and leave each other alone I went back to cleaning right outside their pen. A couple of minutes later I saw Promise go down. He didn't fall...he carefully laid himself down but it seemed weird. I went over and he let me walk up and start petting and checking him all over in case I'd missed a kick mark the first time. It seemed weird that he didn't freak out about being touched up close and personal by a human while laying down. Again, I found nothing. I thought maybe he just tired himself out with all the rearing and kicking he'd been doing. I took Promise back to his stall and then cleaned up Tax's skinned area and dressed it and left them for the night after asking the barn owner to keep an eye on them.


Friday I went out after work to ride one of the BO's horses but when I got there she let me know Promise hadn't eaten all of his hay. I went to check on him and he was laying down...again. I got him up and he just wasn't himself. I couldn't put my finger on it but it he was just not his normal worried "don't touch me" self. Normally it would have thrilled me, and I would have hoped that it meant he was getting used to me but combined with the not eating and laying down I began to worry even more. I called the vet thinking that maybe he was going to have an episode of laminitis. Judging by his feet we're pretty sure he's been chronic laminitic but it hasn't caused a serious rotation thus far. The on-call vet told me that if he wasn't showing signs of lameness (he wasn't) then we could rule out laminitis. She was more worried about potential colic but I didn't think he was showing any real signs, and neither did the BO who has dealt with a fair share of colicky horses. The vet and I finally agreed he could have 1-2 grams of bute and we'd see how he was doing in the morning. I hate that my horses aren't closer but the BO agreed to check on him that night and call me if anything seemed to change for the worse. The next morning, Promise was back to normal. I wonder if he had a bellyache or muscle ache or something that set off the bucking spree?

In other news, I started giving lessons to one of the girls, AJ, that just moved to our barn. She's 9 and wont listen to her parents advice. They asked me to work with her just to make sure she's safe with her new horse and can get her to respond to her cues. Now, I'm not a real trainer but I've taught several adults how to ride. My sister learned from me and I think in many ways she's a better rider than I currently am. She's done pretty well at shows and even beat my trainer (who is incredibly good) in a jumper class. I don't want to give anyone the wrong impression though, and I've been very honest about the fact that I'm not comfortable teaching more than the basics. Also kids are new so I'm finding ways to communicate ideas differently. I've worked with my own kids and their cousin but they aren't serious riders and just giggle and hold onto the front of the saddle anytime I try to teach them to trot. If AJ outgrows me and still wants to show I told her parents I'd refer them to a real trainer. AJ's new horse is the cutest little morgan pony. She's very easy going but she'd been out to pasture for a couple of years and really doesn't want to move forward. Our first lesson was a little rough with Tiara not wanting to move and AJ accidently pulling on the reins whenever she'd finally get a trot. Other than that her balance is good and except pulling back occasionally her hands are positioned well. She's fiesty and serious too and I like that in a lesson kid. Our second lesson was this past Saturday and already she's doing better at focusing on putting her hands forward and legs back (she gets them out too far in front sometimes) when she cues the trot with her legs. Tiara trotted around the round pen for her 3-4 times each direction and AJ said that's the longest she's been able to make her trot. Yay!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Introductions

I wanted to place to journal my thoughts about training my horse beasties, and I decided that Myspace wasn't good for it. Most of my friends are bored to tears the moment I mention my horses. I don't know what that thing is that separates horse people from non-horse people, but it's really something. I know for myself I was obessessed with horses as soon as I was old enough to know what one was. My early bedrooms were covered with My Little Ponies and Barbie horses. I played horses with my best friend, Katie, and we would run down our streets neighing and galloping with each other. I wonder sometimes if wherever she is, Katie still dreams about soft noses and smooth muscles and that glorious smell all horse people know and love. Admit it, even if you hate it you also love it because it means there are horses somewhere close...



First let me take a minute to introduce myself and said beasties. My name is Anna. I'm a 32 year old mother of three boys ages 12, 8 and almost 3. I'm married and work a full time job in Human Resources so my riding time is limited but precious. The boys have shown more interest in the horses than I ever expected, although, some days friends are far more exciting than hanging at the barn. I had owned horses from the time I was about 12 until we bought our first house around 6 years ago. At that time I felt I had to make a decision between my new family, and house and paying board for my TB (Cody) that I honestly didn't have time to ride or enough money to care for as well as I wanted. He was healthy and a nice show horse (schooling jumpers) but not getting any attention so with the help and counsel of my trainer I decided it was time to sell him. I still wish I hadn't. I still think I owed him more than I was able to give him at the time but he went to a good home that he lived at until recently. Eventually, he was retired out in a pasture where I was able to drive by and check on him at times and my old trainer checked on him regularly but he just recently disappeared and I'm too afraid to stop and ask. My life, in the meantime, changed dramatically. I got a better job that pays well and I have more flexibility in my schedule. I also received a small inheritance to ensure I have some savings for my horse dreams. I realized that my new husband is the most wonderful and supportive man I could have hoped for, and he puts up with my long hours away from home with more grace than I know how to thank him for.



So, about six months ago I realized that I wasn't happy with a few things in my life. I no longer had anything I was passionate about. I was starting to do that thing where I only thought of myself as someone else's employee, wife or mother. I can't remember a time I didn't dream about riding, training, showing and caring for horses. I had always wanted to teach people to ride. I discussed it with my husband nervously. His mother owned horses so he is well aware of the amount of time they take. I was worried he would think he'd come second which is kind of how I think he felt as a kid with his mom sometimes. To my surprise he was more open to the idea than I thought he would be. He wants more than anything for me to be happy and to realize my dreams. So, I was off with a budget to buy a horse and a trailer. Yay!



I should now also mention my sister, Kim. She is not actually my sister but close enough to the real thing that it doesn't matter. My current profile pic includes her and it's fitting. We spend alot of time together. My dad and her mom started dating when she was 14 and I was 18. I had just gotten my TB as a four year old with about 90 days training when I met Kim. When I found out about a year later than I was pregnant (and single) I asked Kim to start helping me with Cody since I was out of comission. I taught her to ride English and how to deal with my very kooky horse. She's never worked with another trainer, but I think she's gotten quite good and she's brave as hell. Recently when I decided to get back into horses I asked her if she would help me again because with such a large family I knew I was going to need the assistance and motivation.



I board my three new horses at a smaller self-care family barn (yes, one turned into three somehow but we're making it work). I'm actually really happy I found this barn when I decided to start riding again. I work about 20 hours a month to cover some of my board and the people there are wonderful. I'm not missing the big show barn we were at before like I thought I would. I've been surprised at the horse market since I started back. I'm happy to be able to take advantage of the economy but so sad for all the suffering I've seen along the way to obtaining the three horses we ended up with. I personally helped take down a horse hoarder and I'll have to relate that story sometime, but I'll do it another day.



The horses and their stories:


Tax - Or Artaxman, was the first of the group. He's a son of the racehorse, Artax, who was pretty well known. He's 5, about 16.2 hands and dapple gray with a pure white mane and tail. Tax raced a couple of years and had, from what I can tell, a pretty typical claiming race career. I don't know much else about him other than I can tell he has a well healed quarter crack in one of his hooves. Maybe it ended his former career. If so, I'm glad that's all it was. He's a pretty typical TB...a bit steep in the shoulder, but hopefully nothing that will keep him from being a successful schooling jumper. I don't think he's ever going to be a grand prix horse, but he's sweet and beautiful and likes to jump. He was bought by a Mexican dressage trainer who'd worked at a hacienda when he was younger with some of the Haute Ecole instructors. He had a much softer style than many of the trainers I've met from Mexico and I respected his way with his animals. He had some wonderful AQHA reining horses and a couple of TB's he's bought from the track. He was working on their ground work and one of the other's he was working with could even Piaffe on the long reins. I wish I knew how to teach that stuff, but I don't ground drive well. Anyway, I chose Tax because he seemed to have a good mind and wasn't as explosive or athletic as the piaffe horse. I wanted to easy back into things. When I got Tax home I realized he's only ever been worked 1. at the track and 2. in a round pen. Also, he had no idea how to canter. It's all walk, trot and gallop like the demons from hell are chasing you with him. More updates on how far we've come later.

Promise - Or possibly Golden Rule if we ever get to show him. He's a super cute 14.3 hand, grade palomino paint. Kim's convinced he might have some Mustang blood. My sister and I had been working Tax together when we decided we might like another horse so we could do some trail riding together. I wanted something maybe the kids could show at some open shows. After seeing many horses in some of the most disgusting situations you can imagine we found Promise. He was owned by some old guys who obviously didn't give a hoot about him. They didn't even know his name. The barn was filthy. There were rope burns on his legs from when they were training him to get use to their ropes. He was so cute we couldn't leave him. He's great when you're on him. He doesn't spook and he's steady with nice movement. On the ground it's another matter. He's a worrier and pretty sure you're about to beat him if you move near him at all. We're working on helping him realize that we're nice and we're fair. There may be consequences but they aren't going to be life shattering, and only when you don't go with the program. We did discover he has a minor rotation of his coffin bone (1 mm) and he's cresty so I thought he may have EMS but after bloodwork he seems to be fine. He's been nothing but sound since we got him so hopefully it won't be a problem.

December - is also a OTTB but I can't read her tattoo to research her racing history. She's about 16 hands, 12 years old and a dainty flea bitten gray. She showed A level jumpers at Pebble Beach, CA last year and I think she did pretty well. I have a feeling she's a real packer and was owned by a 12 year old girl. Big Name Trainer had her hauled to a show near the end of last season and she got her leg caught on some kind of divider in the trailer. The hauler tried to detatch the divider and when it became unstable and she started thrashing. She basically laid her whole side open. Fortunately the laceration was all skin and no tendons or muscles. When she first did it they thought it was much worse than it ended up being. BNT wanted to put her down and just collect the insurance money but the barn kids all fundraised and had UC Davis patch her up. I got lucky and when the vet released her to go back to work the BNT who already had a new horse for his student with the "loss of use" insurance money decided to sell her cheap. I don't know if she'll go 5 feet or anything now but since I'm terrified of 3 feet I think she'll have a good home. She went dead lame between the time I bought her and the time I picked her up a day later. The BNT trimmed her feet himself to save some money and quicked her. Actually my farrier said that except for being EXTREMELY short it wasn't to bad of a job. At any rate her feet grew, she got new shoes and she's feeling much better. Not off at all now and just wants to canter along in her smooth wonderful canter. I think it seems even smoother when compared to the galloping maniac.

Now that I've practically written a book for my second post, I'm off. Almost barn time. I'll post some updates on how the training has gone with the troops soon.