Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wonderful Thanksgiving Week with Buckshot!

I had a wonderful four days with Buckshot last week, along with good weather- who could ask for anything more? On Friday, the arena was being used by another boarder so Buckshot and I rode on the grassy areas to warm up. He was perfect, responding well to my direction and behaving with perfect manners. Secretly, I was so proud of him, that I could ride him out of the arena without any problems. I know it sounds mean, but I had a tiny feeling of “I’ve got the best horse ever!” I shouldn’t think that, but he was so good I couldn’t help it. Then we headed down the road, by ourselves, to the field arena. By ourselves! It was the second time in two weeks we have successfully gone down the road to the field by ourselves! What an accomplishment! Buckshot was only a little bit hesitant at times, but for the most part, he walked steadily forward as asked! Wonderful!

When we got to the arena, it was a lovely, slightly cool, sunny day. The air felt so good. And Buckshot had good energy. With the whole arena to ourselves, I kept us busy with a plan of: doing lots of patterns. We did figure eights, circles in corners, a Z pattern, a half moon pattern, a special riding pattern and several reining patterns. We walked, trotted and cantered, and took small breaks between the patterns. Buckshot did very well, even at the canter. His right lead canters could have been better, but overall, he did great. It was a super ride! Then we headed back up the road, and seeing the main arena still in use, headed into the trail. We got about halfway through and then turned back. I had a great time with Buckshot, and gave him lots of treats and praise.

On Saturday we rode with the BO, BOH and my sister, and had a good time. On Sunday, I developed a new game for us. The arena was in use by a boarder so after I mounted Buckshot, we began walking around the grassy areas around the barn, arena, parking and house. Since we were waiting for a few others to groom and tack up, we had some time to kill. I called the game “point to point” and I used the alphabet. I decided on an object or a location to go to, for example, the apple tree, and I said to Buckshot, “For point A, go to the apple tree.” Then I guided him to the tree. Once there, I said “Okay, great. For point B, we will go to the corner post.” And we walked to the post. Then point C was the front of a truck. Point D was near the wash stall. And we kept going to letter R, when the other riders were ready. It was a lot of fun and Buckshot seemed to enjoy it, being guided to various places with purpose and praise. I’ll definitely do it again.

The group of riders went through the woods to the field arena and did some great work there. Then we returned to the barn. So, we were fortunate to have such good weather all week, and Buckshot did great

as well, and never got tired of me. It was lovely.

Tomorrow (Thursday) the vet will be coming to the farm to give Buckshot his annual tooth floating. A few other horses will have some things done as well. It should be a good day, and I will hover over Buckshot like a helicopter mother, watching his every move and mood, as he is sedated and floated, and recovers. Whenever the vet is involved, it brings out my most protective, mothering side. But I don’t apologize because he is my most cherished horse and I want the best for him. But I hope I’m not too overprotective – LOL!

Hope your Thanksgiving was wonderful for you and your family!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Autumn Weather and Great Rides!

I had such a fun time with Buckshot yesterday! He was such a character!

It was a lovely day, slightly cool with a light autumn breeze, high clouds overhead so no direct sun, but a pretty autumn day. We had the farm to ourselves since the BO and BOH went to the reining class. I went to visit Buckshot in his pasture to say hi and check out how things were. I checked his water tub, looked in the stalls for poop (yes, some cleanup needed), checked the salt block in a bucket (it sometimes gets liquid in the bottom, so I'll take out the salt and clean the bucket). Oh, and right now I always go over to the persimmon tree to check and see if any persimmons have fallen so I can give them to Buckshot.

Yes, the persimmon tree is at that stage where there is a lot of fruit still hanging, but it is up so high, I can't reach any of it with a swinging rope, so I can't hit them out of the tree. So I use the rope on lower branches, get them swinging, which makes all the high branches sway, but those darn things hang on for dear life! They stubbornly stay up there on their branches. At one point, I looked over and here comes Buckshot, heading over to the tree where I am. I can almost see the lack of confidence in his eyes: "she won't get me any persimmons!" I tried, believe me I tried, but he was right, I couldn't get any to fall. The last 5 or 6 times I have "worked the tree" I have only gotten persimmons that had already fallen to the ground. I gave them all to Buckshot.

After taking him over to the main barn, and grooming him, and tacking him up, we headed out to the arena. All ours! No one else will be riding in it! I love the feeling of freedom of the entire arena. There were three pole-bending poles set up, and I set up three cavaletti. I got mounted, using the new protocol of mounting, and Buckshot is very nearly 100% with it. He only sometimes prances around looking for a second treat after I am on him, and when I say clearly "whoa" from the saddle, he listens, and stops moving. Good boy!

We worked in the arena for our warm up, and did some trotting. His energy was good, and the cool air felt wonderful in my face. I felt energetic as well, and our trotting was in synch and united. A terrific feeling! And going over the cavaletti was wonderful! When I trot Buckshot over it, I never look down. I keep my eyes up, and I post, almost staying in two point position. And he did great! He never touched or hit any of the cavaletti! Wonderful! I think it is such a good exercise for him, since he has to lift his feet, and balance and get his strides down. And it is a courage builder for me. Sometimes, because of his age (he is approximately 25 years old), I mentally want to restrict him to geriatric horse things. (I think it is because, to many people, a 25 year old horse is very, very old, nearly dead, in fact, and that perception leaks into my thoughts.) But I think of Buckshot as a "young" 25 year old horse, since he loves his work, works willingly, and is a great riding horse. But the tiny thought crossed my mind as I approached the cavaletti- I hope he doesn't fall.... Well, he didn't fall, he didn't have any trouble with them at all, and he trotted over them several times with flying colors! Good boy!

After doing a little cantering, which was nice cantering by him, we started walking down the road. Since the BO was gone, I was to feed three older horses a grain lunch, and one of these three horses was in a barn down the road. So we walked down the road, with Buckshot making good time, not being too hesitant at all (progress!), and when we got to the barn in question, I got off of him. I then had to figure out what to do with him while I fed the older horse, and tied up her pasturemate so she could eat without him stealing her grain.

Well, I didn't know what to do with Buckshot. Can't take him into the pasture with the other two horses - that doesn't sound safe. I walked Buckshot up to the door and reached for a halter. Well, he took another step in. He's apparently not worried about small, dark feed rooms! I backed him out and walked over to the gate. I thought I'd put the halter on and tie him with an emergency knot to the gate. But as I applied the halter over his bridle, I thought- that's wrong. If you have both a bridle and a halter on a horse, the halter needs to be under the bridle. Putting the halter over the bridle appeared to me to push the sides of the bit down and it might hurt. So then I took the halter and wound it around his neck, like you do typically when you are replacing a halter with a bridle. It was tight, but I thought it would work for a few minutes. Then I tied the lead line to the gate. I looked at Buckshot- his face looked pinched, like "what is this you are doing to me??" I thought if I step away, he might be worried, and I didn't like it, so I undid it.

Then I walked him back to the tack room door, and thought- grain! He loves grain! I'll give him a few bites of it. The only thing I could find to use was a dog/cat dish kept there to feed kibble to the cats. I put some grain into the dog dish and set it down in front of Buckshot. Well, he lowered his nose to the dish and stood stock still- eating away! I fed Jesse, and tied up Dusty, and Buckshot never moved a muscle from the grain!

I mounted him again and we went to the reining arena and had a wonderful time! We cantered a lot and trotted a lot and it was just a soaring, wonderful, freeing time with Buckshot! He had good energy, and the weather was just so nice and cool and we just rode and had such fun! I was so proud of him - he let me work on my canter seat by cantering for a good long time, and repeatedly, and he was just wonderful! After I had my fill, we headed back to the barn to untie the horse. Again, I used the grain in the dog dish to keep Buckshot occupied and standing still! Then I mounted up again, and we headed back to the main arena. We did a few more minutes of work there and called it a day. An hour and a half of wonderful autumn riding, on the best horse ever! I gave him lots of treats and praise and thanks as I untacked and brushed him, and walked my partner back to his pasture.

Hope you had a great autumn ride as well!

Contest Winners Announced!

Congratulations to my contest winners: Grey Horse Matters and Girl with a Dream!

They both answered my question with insightful comments and so they both have won!

To the special winners - for instructions and information on your prizes, see comments in the prior post. Thank you so much!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Interesting Weekend Challenge

Last weekend I went to see Buckshot Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The weather here was lovely- in the 50’s and 60’s, even a tad warmer on Sunday, sunny, no bad weather in sight. On Friday and Saturday we had great rides. Buckshot is learning the new mounting protocol – of only getting a treat before I mount- and half of the time he is perfect. Standing still while I get on, and staying perfectly still while I get myself adjusted, and he only moves when I tell him to. The other half of the times he forgets that there is no second treat, and will turn around and look for it. But he is learning, and he is better at standing still than he was before this change. Good boy!

On Sunday, an interesting challenge came up. We were riding alone, and during our warm up I could tell he had low energy. It was a bit warmer, and sunnier, so it felt like a spring day, but of course he has his winter coat and so, understandably, he felt a little sluggish. He trotted okay, though. After our warm up, we started walking around outside the arena and I led him to the trailhead to go on the trail. He was a little reluctant but he walked forward and we started down the first section of the trail.

I had to urge him with my legs a few times, but he went on, albeit slowly. After a little ways, he stopped. He didn’t snort, or act agitated, or worried at all. He just stopped. I tried squeezing with my legs and saying walk on. But he didn’t move. Not an inch. I looked around to see if something or some critter was nearby, but the woods were lovely, calm and quiet. I concluded he just didn’t want to go further. He just didn’t. Nothing really was wrong, except for going forward.
So I sat there, and thought. I have lots of techniques for getting a horse to go forward, I’ll just have to use them. I turned him in little circles, and then headed him forward. Nothing. I turned him in circles the other direction. Nothing. I backed him, and he backed up for 5 or 6 strides. Then we moved forward to the exact same spot and he stopped again. I squeezed my legs again, hard. Nothing. Harder. Nothing. I used my crop and tapped him on the shoulder. Walk on. Nothing. I tapped harder. Nothing. Just a horse statue. I tapped him, fairly hard, on his haunches. Nothing. I steered him sideways into the woods, and then back out, and at the same spot, he stopped. Well, I thought, I’m exhausting all of my tools. I know I can’t outmuscle him, and using the crop as hard as I can isn’t going to work. And my legs are getting tired. I couldn’t figure it out. He was very calm, and stubborn. But I was determined. Since nothing was wrong (he wasn’t afraid, or agitated, or worried, or hurt) I wanted us to go forward. But I didn’t have as many tools as I thought I had. So I stopped and thought. I just don’t know. I was a tiny bit irritated at this, but I wasn’t going to get angry, I told myself. Just keep trying things. And wishing I had a few more tools to try. So again, I squeezed, and also kicked several times, and he started right up! Amazing! I don’t know what was going on, but at some point, he decided to walk!

We continued just fine through the trail. He tried to turn around once, a half-hearted attempt on him part, and I got us back in the forward direction. We had a nice time through the woods and came out to to field and walked around it to the reining arena. We started some trotting and his energy seemed so slow it was barely above a walk. I felt him beginning to balk a little. So I tried something new, hoping that he understands English. I stopped him, and said, very clearly, and sternly, Buckshot, if you don’t go forward in the arena, you won’t get to eat grass. He is always allowed to graze by the arena when we finish, but I was going to forget the grazing that day, if he did the statue thing again. And, do you know, he moved forward just fine! We got some nice trotting work and walking work in. We even did two canters that were fine. Not great, but considering the warmth of the day, just fine. And then I walked him over to the grass and let him eat.

Then I headed us back to the barn, and darn if his forward energy didn’t pick right up! What a character! I petted his neck and told him he did good work! And we had done two new things we had never done before- dealt with his statue-thing and he had learned English and understood “no grass!”

As we walked back and I untacked him and gave him treats, I kept thinking about the statue situation. In the back of my mind, I felt like it had been a test, that he had been testing me to see what I would do if he was really stubborn with me. Would I get angry and yell at him, or hit him? Or give up and get off of him and walk him forward, or give up on the trail totally? If pushed beyond our usual limits, what would I do? He wanted to know. Maybe he needed to know. Like when you’ve been with someone for five years, and are wondering what would they be like if you were really stubborn. You might see the real person inside. Maybe he wanted to test me. I think I passed his test and showed him I can be persistent, and firm, but not get angry, or tense, or demanding. And he passed my test, if it was one, by finally responding to what I wanted. When I told the BO about it later, she said maybe he wanted to know if I would eventually give in. And would let him not go forward, or even get off of him and lead him.

I also thought about the number of tools I have. I quickly realized, after the fact, that there were two tools I didn’t think of using. I didn’t think of “patience,” by which I mean I could have mentally counted to 20 in my head, between tries. Sometimes if you give someone more time to react to the request, they will do it. They just won’t do it immediately. I didn’t think to use mental counting and patience. I will remember that in the future.

I also forgot that I had some treats in my pocket. The BO said that was probably good, that using treats in that situation might have been counter productive, and taught him that eventually he’ll get a treat. I agree with her on that- treats wouldn’t have been a good tool.

I wonder if there are still other tools I could use in that type of situation. Perhaps there are. But it was an interesting day, and an interesting challenge for me to deal with. Buckshot is a good horse, and is reliable and calm, most of the time. But once in a while, he challenges me, and it’s a good learning experience for me. And for our relationship as well. And he is interesting, that even in his stubbornness, he stayed calm, and it was never dangerous or scary. Just a test of wills between partners. He got to stand still for a long time and observe me, and see what I had. See what I was made of. And I got to, eventually, move forward through the woods on a calm, and interesting horse. It’s another reason I love him.

Hope you had a more cooperative horse to ride! Have you ever gotten the feeling that your horse tested you? If so, please share about it. And the most interesting comment will win a prize (I promise)!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Good Rides with Buckshot

I finally got to the barn last Saturday to see my sweet Buckshot, and he was fine. The farm hadn’t been damaged by Hurricane Sandy, but several of the horses, including Buckshot, had been moved to the main barn during the worst of the rain, wind and cold temperatures. I meekly asked the BO (barn owner) if Buckshot had whinnied a lot when in the stall. I know he can be, well, noisy, when confined to a stall, so I hoped it hadn’t been too bad. She said a lot of the horses had been whinnying so Buckshot wasn’t the only one; eventually he had settled down and eaten hay.

After I saw him, hugged him, told him how I missed him, and cleaned up his stall, I got him over to the main barn and groomed and tacked him up. He had good energy! It was a nice crisp fall day, and you could just feel the good energy in the air. In fact, when I tried to mount him, he had too much energy. I now can mount him while he is moving, but it isn’t a good situation. In fact, my own procedures had caused this problem. I had gotten Buckshot to take a treat just before I get on him, in order to get him to stand still, and then I gave him a second treat when on him. It worked perfectly for a long time. But eventually it backfired. Giving him a treat from the saddle caused him to accidently bite my hand or fingers several times. So I started leaving the treat on the mounting block, and after I was in the saddle, I’d turn him around to pick it up from the block. But over time, his excitement about that treat on the block caused him to start turning the moment my left foot was in the stirrup, hence, my mounting a moving horse. So on Saturday, I finally admitted to myself that we had a new problem with mounting. That‘s the first step- admitting there is a problem.

Anyway, we had a great ride. Buckshot had a lot of great energy and did some very nice trotting, and, wonder of wonders! Some super cantering! He cantered strongly and powerfully, several times in fact, so strongly that my seat bumped on the saddle (and boy, did I feel sore later). We also had a nice ride through the woods, with my sister and Dusty. It was a great day!

On Sunday, the weather was wonderful again- nice and crisp/cool, with some sunshine and no chance of rain. Buckshot and I had a really good ride, with nice trotting and wonderful cantering again. I was thrilled. And I worked on the mounting issue. When I first went to get on him, he moved before I got my foot in the stirrup, so I got off of the block, and walked him over to a different mounting block, to change up his normal procedure, because I was about to make a bigger change. At this mounting block, I gave him two treats up front, then got on the block and got on him, without his moving. Then I walked him away from it. The new protocol is: one treat at mounting, no second treat after I’m on him.

At first, he wiggled this way and that, trying to get back to the block to get his treat. I squeezed him firmly and said walk on. After a moment, he moved forward and we started our ride.

I mounted him three more times that day, all to retrain him how to mount. I gave him a treat at the beginning, then I got on him, and no more treats. He scooted around to look for the treat he expected, but I firmly got him walking forward and after a moment, he forgot about it. So after four times practicing our new protocol, we are well on our way to having a better situation. I’ll have to keep it up until he is comfortable with the change, but he will be. (I give him lots of treats after every ride, and pamper him as much as possible, so that minimizes any guilt I feel about taking away this treat. And, for safety reasons, it is important to make this change.)

So I had wonderful times with Buckshot last weekend. I never did make it to the Equine Extravaganza. On Friday, I couldn’t take time off from work, and on Saturday and Sunday, I wanted to be with Buckshot instead of going to the convention. So no shopping for me, or research on wonderful horse secrets, but I was exactly where I most wanted to be- with my sweet horse himself.

I’ve ordered a glucosamine supplement from SmartPak, to try and help with any stiffness Buckshot has from arthritis. He was stiff after laying down for sleep during the cold wet hurricane – apparently he will lay down in inclement weather, and even with his winter blanket on, he still got chilled (and then the BO took him to the main barn). So I want to try to relieve some of his stiffness. We’ll see how it works.

Hope you had a nice weekend!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

We Survived Hurricane Sandy!

Just a quick post here (I'll write more later) to let you know everything is fine with us in Virginia. Last weekend at the farm, the very thoughtful BO had staged blankets, hay, feed in every barn. I had brought both of Buckshot's heavy winter blankets to the feed room attached to his pasture barn. So we were ready. (I also had done preparations for loss of power at my apartment, and for my dad.)

It rained and was cold and windy on Monday and Tuesday, and from what the BO told me later, Buckshot did get chilled and wet and had to be brought over to the main barn. (The main barn is where I tack him up; it is where there are appx 14 stalls, and where I have space for my tack, equipment and gear). He spent either one or two days in the barn with, no doubt, appx 13 other horses. Apparently he laid down Monday morning outside in the pasture, to get his REM sleep, and it was wet and cold, and even though he had his winter blanket on, he got chilled. So then the BO and BOH brought him over to the main barn. I guess he was somewhat stiff also, from the cold. Poor boy! By Tuesday night, she was able to take him back to his main pasture, so he must have been fine by then.

I haven't seen him yet, so will see him Saturday morning. I'm so glad I put both of his winter blankets nearby for him!

Luckily, the central Virginia area had very little damage from Hurricane Sandy. So sorry to hear about the northeast- we in Virginia have been there, with massive power outages, and the other damage. It's hard.

I'll write more about my rides with Buckshot - pre-hurricane- later. Thanks for your concern. Hope everyone is doing okay.