Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Wonderful Post-Hurricane-Irene Weekend!

We are beginning to get back to a sense of normalcy after Hurricane Irene. Most of us have had our electricity restored, the stoplights around town are working reliably again, and we are beginning to buy perishable foods again for our refrigerators. And the first weekend after the hurricane gave us some decent weather and a three-day weekend, courtesy of Labor Day! So I spent all three weekend days at the barn with Buckshot and had a great time.

On Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011, I took him to the barn to be groomed for the first time in two weeks! He was a bit fuzzy. He munched on the special alfalfa hay I put in his grooming stall, and I’ll bet felt much better after his spa-day grooming. We went to the arena and started our phase one warm up. I decided to include lots of circles in our walking work, as I had read recently on a good blog by a woman named Val, who has a wonderful horse named Harley (her blog is Memoirs of a Horse Girl) click here. Val wrote about the many benefits of circles in one of her older posts (I’m reading her archives as well as her newer posts). I realized that I hadn’t worked on circles for some time. So instead of having Buckshot walk on the rail for our warm up, I continually moved him in large and medium sized circles, curves, serpentines and turn arounds. I worked on using my leg aids primarily, to help improve them. I estimate that he moved accurately from my legs about 80% of the time, with the other 20% needing the addition of a rein aid. I thought that was pretty good progress on legs, and on circles.

After a while, the other Saturday lesson students arrived and we walked around the arena. Our instructor, the BO, gave us a challenging canter pattern to do. It was fun to circle cones, come down the rail, try lead changes, and follow the pattern, all at the canter. Buckshot and I did pretty well. We then walked on the trail to the reining arena. The trail had some debris on it but not too much for riding. All of the horses handled the trail challenges just fine. We spent a few minutes at the reining arena and then returned to the main arena. I untacked Buckshot, praised him for his work (we rode for 1.5 hours!), and gave him a medicated shampoo bath, and walked him slowly back to his pasture.

My regular routine at the barn is to help with the late afternoon feeding of three of the farm’s six barns. So, later on Saturday, I went to Buckshot’s barn and fed the five horses up there. The barn at this group of pastures has five stalls for horses, with open doors, so they can walk in and out as they wish. The sixth stall is the feed and hay room, where the barrels of grain, supplements and bales of hay are kept. I began my usual procedure. I fixed Buckshot’s and Lucky’s dinner, and walked it over to their stalls. I closed Lucky’s door while he eats. Then I checked and filled the water tubs. I next fixed grain for the other three horses, followed by getting flakes of hay for each horse and carrying it to the places in the pasture where they eat hay.

Then, I did things in the feed room. I had to make the breakfasts for each horse, and open the breakfast hay bales. I also organized some letters that have fallen off of Buckshot’s name sign that hangs outside of his stall. I planned to get some glue and reattach them later in the weekend. I saw some wasp nests so I brushed them down. Busy with these tasks, I was focused on making sure all the chores were done. Well, I then turned to go and stepped out of the feed room, and who was standing right there, by the door, big as life, watching me- but Buckshot! He had gotten out of his pasture and walked around to the feed room! And just stood there, looking at me, as if to say “what cha doing?” I was shocked! Buckshot! I said, What are you doing here? And I reached behind me for a lead line and gently put it around his neck and walked him back into his pasture! By then I was laughing! How funny! He had his hay to eat, and usually he digs right into it with gusto, but Saturday, he decided to come find me, or to explore! And the funny thing is, compared to other horses who have gotten free, and who are usually a little bit antsy when they are free (as if they are thinking about running to the next county, now that they have a chance to!), he was as calm as a cucumber, in his freedom. Like he never even thought of going anyplace, just right over here to the feed room. It was so funny! He is such a dear horse. I laugh every time I think about it!

He must have gotten a laugh about it as well, seeing my total look of surprise when I stepped out of the feed room and saw him escaped from his pasture! (And to explain how he got out of his pasture—I never close the gate, I just pull it into the closed position because Buckshot always goes straight for his hay and doesn’t even look at the gate. Then minutes later, I’ll let Lucky out of his stall, and say goodbye to Buckshot, and then I’ll latch the gate closed….. hmmmm.)

On Sunday, Buckshot proved his worth many times over. I think he is worth his weight in gold – triple! And with the current price of gold, that’s a lot. The weather was hot and humid but I was looking forward to practicing the canter. After our warm up, I asked for a trot and Buckshot did the most wonderful, lovely, floaty trot ever. I asked myself if his feet were even touching the ground, it was so light and airy. And this was a working trot, not his powerful extended trot. I was charmed by his trotting, and rubbed his neck enthusiastically.

A little later we were joined by the BO on her horse, her husband on his horse and another boarder on her horse. After a warm up for their horses, we walked through the woods to the reining arena. The boarder’s horse started bucking, almost unseating the rider. After that, the BO led all of us around the arena in patterns at the walk. I knew that three of us wanted to practice our reining exercises, and go fast, and canter, but the BO was kindly deferring to the horse that was nervous and would buck, so we all stayed at the walk. I used the time to work on my equitation, by going over my new mental guidelines to improve my posture and balance. I thought: stretch from abdomen to neck; good boobies (!); shoulders like a princess, hips like a whore; shoulders back but not that far; etc. (And yes, these guidelines do make me laugh; they also really help me – LOL!). Note: the guidelines are from a terrific blog by Carol, who has a wonderful horse named Rogo. Her blog is Dressage Training Blog click here.

As we went back into the woods to return to the barn, I stayed just in front of the excited horse. This is where Buckshot’s former work as a track pony is invaluable. He is never bothered by nervous horses near him. He just plods along like nothing is going on. So I feel very safe on him, and extremely proud of him. We turn to his reliable experience in times like this and he is a rock. Several times during the trail ride, when we came to hills, I told Buckshot we had to go slow, to not create a gap of space behind us, lest the horse get nervous about being left behind. And Buckshot slowed his walk, and behaved just wonderfully. I really think he knows what is going on, and he does what is needed. Again, he is worth his weight in gold!

But then, on Monday, Buckshot wasn’t quite so perfectly behaved. During our warm up we had an audience of the BOH and some farm workers, and Buckshot wanted to walk out of the arena. So we walked over to the people and said hello, and then returned to the arena. No one else was riding, and it was a quiet day at the farm, so I later headed us down the farm road. I thought Buckshot and I would ride down to the reining arena and work there for a few minutes. Although we have never actually done it. But I was optimistic. We got just a very short way down the road and Buckshot didn’t want to go any further. He turned around, and when I turned us back around, he walked sideways, and this way and that, not prancing, but just in a “don’t want to go that way” manner. So after just a mild argument, I turned us back toward the barn, as if it was my idea all along, and we went back to where we started. Oh, well, I guess I will have to work on this in small steps. In the past, we have gotten much farther down this road when I walk him in hand. But when I am riding him, and we don’t have another horse with us, he is reticent.

I then thought, well, that’s okay, we’ll walk down the trail instead! We have done this by ourselves, just once, but we have done it. So I headed him to the trailhead. Well, we didn’t get very far and not even close to the trailhead, and Buckshot turned us back around, and walked to the side, and this way and that. So he didn’t want to go on the trail alone either. Since it wasn’t critical or for safety reasons that we went on the trail, I didn’t make an issue of it. I just turned him toward the trailhead and walked him two steps in that direction, then I stopped him, turned him around and we went back to the arena. Like it was my idea. I don’t know why, but he wasn’t feeling confident enough to go on either ride that day. Amazingly, several weeks ago, we did go on the trail by ourselves for the first time, without a hint of reticence by Buckshot. I don’t really know what his mindset was that day, and why it was so different yesterday. I didn’t notice any difference in him all day, like his not feeling well, or not feeling like himself. But we’ll work on it again in the future.

Still, even with his inconsistency with riding alone, he is a wonderful horse and I am delighted that I got a three day weekend with him. I hope you had a great weekend with your horses.


juliette said...

It is good to hear that your town and world is getting back to normal after the hurricane.

What a cute story about Buckshot in the feed room! He is adorable and calm and curious and hungry and...better not leave that gate unhooked anymore! He is on to you!

Jan, I know others won't agree, but I bet Buckshot was telling you that he was tired when he wouldn't go forward down the road or trail. You described his floaty, lovely trot from the day before. That takes energy and he put in good work after some time off. As an older runner, I can tell you that high energy days can sometimes leave me flat the next day. Buckshot might have just said, "Thanks, I've had enough now, I need to rest."

Jan said...

Juliette, thank you for your insight about Buckshot! I hadn't thought of his behavior that way, but it makes sense and I'll remember that. You have such great observations about horses- your three horses are lucky to have you!