Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Eve Ride

It’s Sunday night, December 26, 2010, and Virginia received quite a load of snow today. I stayed home, snug and warm, and did some painting and baking. Someday I’d like to see Buckshot during snow, but I live too far from the boarding farm to go out and visit while it is snowing. I stay put (or go to work if it is a weekday) and go visit Buckshot after the roads are clear.

Yesterday was Christmas, so I stayed home and cooked in preparation for our family get together yesterday afternoon.

But Friday, Christmas Eve, I not only got to the barn, I got to ride Buckshot! I went to lunch with the BO and BOH, and afterwards, we all felt like a trail ride. The arena was still covered with snow and ice (from a previous snowstorm!) so we couldn’t do any riding in the arena. Instead we decided to go on the trail through the woods.

And I did so many things wrong! As I got Buckshot tacked up, I noticed that the last time I cleaned the saddle I had attached the cinch backwards. So the off side, in which the end of the cinch is supposed to tuck nicely into a keeper, had no keeper! The keeper was on the near side (where it wasn’t needed, of course). But since the others were waiting for me, I thought I’d just go with it. In the back of my mind, I thought, you shouldn’t ever cut corners on tack! You know that! Tack is critical! A few minutes won’t matter! But still I left it, and hoped that the end of the cinch wouldn’t hit Buckshot’s shoulder or leg.

Then I took him out to the mounting block and quickly tightened the cinch, but left it a bit untightened. He has long winter hair and I didn’t think he would sweat under the cinch, so I thought it would be okay.

After I got on Buckshot, I reached down to give him a post-mounting treat from the saddle, without a glove on, and my aim was off and somehow my fingers ended up in his mouth! Ouch! I pulled my fingers out and shook my hand. And the darn treat had fallen on the ground! But the others were headed to the woods so I got him walking. Darn, darn, darn. I know better than to feed him treats from the saddle without a glove on! I know it! But again, I hadn’t listened to what I know is right. I tugged my glove on, and flexed my hand and it felt a bit sore, but not too bad. (Later I went to take the ring off of that hand and it was bent into an oval! Buckshot had bit down on both sides and bent it! The more I thought about that, I think I was lucky the ring gave him some resistance – what if it hadn’t been on my finger! )

So we started off with me feeling a bit out of sorts about these events. We headed into the woods and the footing was great, nice and soft, no ice or snow, not even any muddy spots. As we approached the bridge (a short bridge over a small creek), I know I should have called out and volunteered to go first, since Buckshot crosses the bridge calmly and confidently. But I didn’t, and the BO’s horse acted up at the bridge. By acted up, I mean danced and then backed up. Right up to Buckshot and I. I didn’t know quite what to do, but I turned him into the brush and tried to stay out of the horses way. After a minute, she got her horse to walk over the bridge. At this point the BOH was in front of me, close to the bridge, and Buckshot and I were behind them. This horse also acted up and backed up quick and far. I wheeled Buckshot around fast to stay out of their way. So I offered to go before him and we did- clop, clop, clop ( a lovely sound when around bridges!:). The BOH and his horse followed calmly. (Note to self: when you think other horses in front of you will have problem with a bridge, back up and leave plenty of space in front of you- in case they fly backwards!)

The rest of the ride was calm and quiet; we enjoyed the comfortably cold temperatures and sunshine and quietness of the woods. I checked the tightness of his cinch a few times, and it wasn’t too loose. And I did look around for a stump for remounting in case I decided to get off and tighten the cinch. Overall, the cinch seemed okay to me, but in the back of my mind, I was concerned about it because I knew I hadn’t been as thorough about it as I should have been.

After we turned around and headed back to the barn. I called ahead and offered to go first across the bridge, and the BO agreed. So Buckshot and I led – clop, clop, clop and clop – and then the other two horses followed, calmly. Wonderful sound to hear their steady footfalls this time.

Even though I had taken some tack shortcuts I shouldn’t have, and didn’t follow what I know to be the right way to handle things, Buckshot was great and he did fine. (And I gave him extra treats after the ride to make up for the ones he lost.) As for me, I have promised myself (outloud) to Never, ever, ever give treats from the saddle without gloves, and Always, always, always get my tack correct before riding. It is far, far, far more important than making a riding partner wait another minute.

But it was a great ride, all things considered! I hadn’t ridden for a week, and as it turned out, it was the only ride we got to do all weekend!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Snow! and Groundwork Sessions

This past weekend we had the remnants of Virginia’s first snowfall on the ground. The arena was covered with snow and ice so riding was not an option. So, instead Buckshot and I revisited the groundwork we have done. We did this three days-Friday, Saturday and yesterday, Sunday. Using his pasture as an “arena” we did a variety of exercises and games designed to give us some working time together, help him stay limber, and help build on our relationship. I’ll give you some idea of the exercises we do, although I might change it up a bit on any given day. This is a good description of our work. After putting on his halter and lead line, we might start with our “walk the fenceline” exercise in which we walk the perimeter of the pasture. I sometimes have us just walk; other times I throw in a variety of mini-exercises every fifteen or twenty feet. These mini-exercises are whoa, and do a circle; whoa and back a few strides; whoa and do a large half circle; and going around trees in a figure eight pattern. After the walk the fenceline, he gets a pat and a treat. (He loves that part!)

Another exercise we do is small circles around me; two to the right and two to the left. Then we do “walking and backing” in which we walk approximately eight strides straight ahead, whoa, and I turn to him and ask for three strides backing, then whoa and return to walking straight ahead. Then whoa, backing, then back to walking straight ahead. We do this six or eight times.

We also walk large circles, two times to the right, then two times to the left. Then we do spirals, in which I make the circles smaller and smaller; then reverse spirals, in which we start with a tiny circle then make it get progressively larger.

A game we play is called the “bingo” game. I lead Buckshot to a “thing” in the pasture (a tree branch, a stump, a bush, even a patch of grass) and point to it or touch it and say “touch it with your nose.” Sometimes he touches it right away (sometimes, I move the branch to touch his nose – LOL). Then I say “Bingo!” and give him a pat and a treat. He seems to really like this game.

Another exercise we do is “walk and stop,” in which I stand at his head and walk straight ahead for a few strides, then I use my right hand to make the “whoa” signal (palm down, I pat the air one time). He stops immediately. I start walking again, maybe just two steps, and whoa. He stops immediately. Then four steps and whoa, then one step and whoa. This is to encourage him to stay very focused on me and what I am doing. He is surprisingly good at this one, and he can stop on a dime in this exercise.

After our groundwork is over, and I’ve told him what a smart horse he is, we then go outside the pasture and do some grazing, just taking our time, letting him find patches of grass to nibble on. Since we aren’t doing anything in particular, I just let him take his time. I love these long, quiet moments with him, watching his rapidly moving lips seeking out grass, his strong legs, his fuzzy winter coat, his lovely thick mane handing down his neck. I chat with him a little but try to not talk too much; this is, after all, his time. I am just his owner/admirer.

Yesterday, I had decided that after our groundwork and grazing, I’d take him to the barn and groom him. So after he ate grass for a long time, we proceeded to the barn and the stall we use for tacking up. I had put a small amount of sweet feed in the feeding manger, and some hay for him to nibble on. We proceeded to do our regular grooming steps, in the quiet barn, with no other people or horses in the barn. I started to tell him about my plans for next weekend, Christmas weekend, that on Friday I’d be there with him and on Saturday, I’d be -bang!- without any warning, he had jumped, banged into me and hit my knee with his knee. What had happened? Before I could even process what had happened (he had spooked, and jumped sideways a few inches), he was back eating hay, as if nothing had happened. Ow, ow, ow, I said and wondered what had caused the spook. It was quiet, no equipment or gun noises, not even any people or children noises, nor any cat noises. I walked to the door of the stall, and then I knew. I had originally doubled the lead line and hung it over the stall door. I now saw only one length of lead line. The other length must have slowly fallen, by gravity, and the motion startled him into spooking. Goodness! I’ve never had a horse spook in the stall before! But now I know that the darn lead line can fall on its own accord and, I guess when things are very calm and quiet, that is enough of an unexpected or unknown movement to cause a spook. Gee! My knee really hurt. In a few days it should be fine. He truly didn’t mean to bump into me so hard. But now I will lay the lead line on the ground, rather than let it possibly fall to the ground!

After we finished the spook investigation and the grooming, I started to take Buckshot back to his pasture. We ran into another boarder who was on her horse and they both wore Santa hats, so it was very festive! A fun day with Buckshot (and a new thing learned!)!

Hope you had a good day with your special horses also!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Gifts, and Rainy Weather...

I wondered what to give my BO for Christmas, and the vet and the farrier, and the few other people in my life I want to give gifts to. But the BO is key. I have a great BO – she is a great instructor, has many years of experience with many types, breeds and ages of horses, and has been fantastic with helping me and Buckshot with the normal and unusual situations that have cropped up. So I wanted to give her a good gift, but stay within my budget. I noticed a sale at The Bitten Store, which is where I got my bit warmer and heat packs (which I am using a lot these days – love this bit warmer!) and so I browsed.
I came across the lovely gloves photographed above – Kampro Rugged Riding Gloves, which are a beautiful, caramel brown color, in suede, with light insulation inside. I decided to order three pairs, one for the barn owner, one for her husband, and since I can’t pass up such a lovely pair of gloves, one pair for me. Well, they arrived, and the wonderful folks at Bitten (see their website at assisted with sizing. They fit beautifully, the BO loved hers so much I gave her two pairs, the BOH loved his and I love them so much I bought two pairs for myself. When I find a great pair of gloves, I know I’ll use them a lot, so I went ahead and bought extra. I especially like these gloves because they are a little different from the usual standard black leather gloves offered in catalogs and at tack shops. I am really pleased with them, and I am glad they made such nice gifts for my wonderful BO and her husband. (I also baked them some chocolate brownies and butterscotch squares.)
In Virginia the wet, chilly weather that blanketed the East Coast arrived this past weekend. I arrived at the barn Saturday morning and found my sweet Buckshot doing one of his favorite things – eating hay! I chatted with him, checked his leg ( a recent scratch I have been tending) and his tail (getting dirty from some soft poop he’s been experiencing), cleaned up some poop in the stalls and corral area, and headed down to the main barn to get ready to ride in our Saturday class. After tacking him up, we walked to the arena under a heavy, grey, cloudy sky. I mounted and we began our phase one walking. First this pattern, then a different exercise. Some more of this, and then some of that. We do extended walk. Then we tried this, etc. Very quickly, it seemed, I checked my watch and we were at eighteen minutes of walking. After a few more minutes, we finished phase one and started on phase two, where we trot patterns, do some cantering as well as walking.
I kept him doing revolutions around the rail at an easy trot and I added: Jingle Bells! Yes, I sang it to him! (He thinks I need singing lessons! LOL) It is fun to sing to him, because when we are trying for a bit of stamina, it breaks up any boredom of just staying on the rail. Plus it takes my mind off of “are my legs just right? Am I giving too much rein? Did the saddle just make that sound? Etc” and gets me just riding. Riding, on instinct, without overthinking it. Just enjoying riding. And it seems to keep Buckshot on track and helps him to stay in a good rhythm.
And lastly, when we take a break and go back to the walk, it gives me a reason to laugh out loud at my own singing and my sweet, forgiving horse! And the laughter itself captures a bit of the joy and thrill of riding a horse, and especially this wonderful horse of my own, Buckshot! Sometimes laughing at myself and at us, and at the wonder of horses, is just a momentary expression of how wonderful it is to be with horses, and to ride them and to love them. Laughing while riding can really be that wonderful!
To continue on with the story, the other riders came out to the arena (they didn’t hear me singing, I definitely lowered my voice when any other people were around! LOL) and we started walking around the arena and it started raining! After about ten minutes, the rain intensity increased and we had to end the lesson. Oh, well, I had a great ride on Buckshot already!
On Sunday, it rained most of the day. I went to the barn to see Buckshot and help with mucking stalls and feeding but no riding. Buckshot seemed to forgive me for my singing on Saturday, but maybe he was saying, “I wish you’d learn a few other songs as well!” Sweet boy!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Buckshot is a trouper!

Buckshot had a tooth pulled! It happened last Thursday and I wasn’t there (darn!- due to a semi-emergency with another horse, it was scheduled such that I wasn’t aware of it til it was over). I wanted to be there for his annual floating and to ask the vet about a few other minor things. But the vets –both of them came to the farm- took good care of him, sedated him for the floating and extracted a tooth that needed to come out. And the BO took good care of him afterwards. When I arrived on Saturday morning, I went out to see him in his pasture and tell him I’m sorry I missed the vet visit. And how did he feel with this new, funny feeling in his mouth? I watched him eat hay and observed only a very little amount of quidding (chewed up hay dropped to the ground in a ball). He seemed to be fine and his regular self. We had a good ride as well. I fed him soft treats (no carrots or mints since they are hard) and he seemed to feel he was appropriately appreciated.

On Sunday, it was colder (low 40’s) and cloudy, almost a dreary-looking sky. We had the arena to ourselves as we started our ride (phase one, as always, our 20 minute walking phase). He did well after phase one, and we had some nice trotting and even some pretty good cantering. I tried really, really hard to keep my seat in contact with the saddle and a few times I did so. I also work very hard on keeping my hands low at the canter, and I think I do reasonably well at this and am able to give him rein as he needs it. He did very well. We even got the correct lead most times, the BO told me, as I am not yet able to tell what lead I am on.

Then the BO and BOH (BO Husband- is this an accepted abbreviation?) joined us on their horses. It was a nice, quiet (no shotgun blasts-hurray!), nippy cold, late autumn ride. After several minutes in the arena, we decided to go on the trail. We rode through the cathedral of strong trees, bare branches, crispy leaves, and autumn quietness. When we got to the small bridge, the lead horse wouldn’t cross, so Buckshot and I took the lead. He walked over it without a hitch. (I’m so proud of him!). Then on through the trail. A few feet ahead I let the BO take the lead position on her horse. Suddenly there was something new. Three neat stacks of wood pieces from downed trees. The first horse stopped, trying to determine what this was and what it all meant. Then she slowly decided it was okay to walk by them. Buckshot and I didn’t miss a step – he didn’t notice or didn’t care about them. But the third horse, a much younger horse, wanted no part of them, and he pranced and jumped about, totally unsure of these dangerous things. His rider rode through it just fine and we continued on our way.

At the hay field, we decided to change our direction and walk across the large hay field, to investigate a new part of the field. A teenaged boy was kicking a soccer ball a bit too close to us. Buckshot did just fine. Several times I had to tell myself to sit back, like a cowboy, and breathe. I am so alert when we ride in a totally new area, I am prepared for the spook at every minute, but I try to recognize it and tell myself to sit back (don’t perch), and breathe, and I can handle whatever may come up. I don’t actually relax, I just try to make my body do more relaxing things, so that I don’t add to my own nervousness. :) We spent a few minutes at the hay field arena and then headed down the driveway back to the barn. After the ride I felt so proud of Buckshot for doing the long two hour ride and how good he was. And all this after getting a tooth pulled just a few days ago. He is such a trouper, and I am so proud of him and glad that he is my horse!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving Weekend Fun

This past Thanksgiving weekend Buckshot and I had great rides! The weather was perfect- nice and cool (in the 40’s and/or 50’s) with nice sunshine. Absolutely perfect horse weather, I think. Plenty of coolness for their thick winter hair, plus the warmth of sunshine that lures them into turning into horse statues (you know the kind, all the horses in a herd are standing facing the same direction, unmoving and calm, whick looks odd, untillllllll you figure out that they are all standing so that the sunrays hit the long sides of their bodies, and they are, well, dozing, or mellowing in the warmth of the sun…. smile). Perfect weather.

We continue to do our twenty minute walking warm up on each ride. I call it Phase One of our ride. I am learning many patterns and variations to keep it from being boring. We start out with a few revolutions around the rail. Then I might add imaginary cone-bending (the cones are imaginery, but the bending back and forth is real), or small circles just inside the rail or serpentines of varying lengths. We also walk the diagonals of the arena. I’ve added a new pattern where we walk on a diagonal line, from a corner to the center of the arena, halt, do something (either a circle or a backing or just the simple halt) and then we continue to a corner, but on a different diagonal line. On each diagonal line we do something different. Also, I vary the speed of his walk as well, asking for the extended walk after about ten minutes. The twenty minutes goes by fairly quickly, as I am motivated to find new directions and maneuvers for us to do, both to warm him up overall, as well as including turns to warm him up in that way.

After Phase One, when we begin some trotting, Buckshot has been very energetic and willing. He feels enthusiastic about himself! I love to do trotting, probably because when Buckshot is on, it feels like we are flying! Sometimes I think that in my head – wheeee, we are flying! He has a very powerful extended trot and when we are in synch, it’s a wonderful feeling to me. And perhaps to him as well :).

On Saturday, we were alone in the arena. No one else was at the barn and the BO was out of town. In the early part of our ride, Buckshot spooked the biggest, fastest, longest distance ever! We were in the arena, at the gate, and I was just beginning to reach for a rein to introduce a turn to the center of the arena, and out of nowhere – BOOM!- a shotgun blast that sounded just a few feet away! Way too loud. Buckshot turned and bolted about twenty feet to the center of the arena. I ducked down and held onto the saddle pad, all instinct and no thought. He stopped in the middle of the arena. My legs felt like jelly, but I tried to quickly regroup. I hadn’t fallen off or come close (because I had ducked down by instinct into the fetal-holding-onto-horse-like-a-limpet position) but I had to decide quickly what to do: get off? Stay on? Would there be more shots? How worried was Buckshot? First I breathed deeply, realized my legs were shaking like jelly, but Buckshot seemed pretty calm, so I said “that’s okay, boy, we’re fine,” hopefully not in a squeaky voice :). I started walking him, and he seemed fine, just a touch jumpy. Another shot went off (not as loud), and he jumped but didn’t spook. I kept us walking, talking to him (really, myself) the whole time. “It’s okay, I think we can walk just fine, now, we’ll see how it goes, etc, etc. “ I kept him off the rail, just in case the shots started again and I needed to dismount quickly. But the countryside stayed quiet after that. And we went on to have a good ride.

I ordered Buckshot’s Christmas present today – a bucket of his favorite treat in the whole world, the only one that reduces him to an equine mass of nickering excitement- the German horse muffins from Equus Magnificus (see He adores these treats, and as I have watched my bucket diminish, I have felt a sadness about running out of these wonderful muffins. So today I ordered him a new bucket. I know he would like me to give him the whole bucket on Christmas Day :) but alas! I won’t. I confess, I don’t really want to ever run out of these treats, he loves them so much! Have you thought of what to get your horse(s) for Christmas yet?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Weekend Adventures!

Yesterday (Sunday) I finished four straight days going out to the barn to be with Buckshot! Wonderful! I took last Thursday and Friday off of work. Each day had lovely weather – sunny and in the high 50’s. Here are some highlights…. On Thursday I checked the new English bridle’s fit more carefully. The browband seemed a bit snug to me, but I decided to use it one last time. During our ride, I looked down at the bridle straps and had to laugh – they were each buckled at the very end (by handmade holes) which didn’t reach the other side of the buckle, much less the keeper! It looked terrible to me! I realized that I have some vanity about how Buckshot looks in his tack. Between the browband being too tight and the ridiculous tiny strap ends poking out at odd angles, I decided that that bridle was history!

On Friday, I went to our local tack shop and ask to see some bridles. I thought I’d look into a western bridle, without the noseband. I’d asked the BO what the purpose of nosebands was, and whether she thought Buckshot really needed one, and she said he didn’t really need one. So with the help of the tack shop staff, I chose a lovely dark red/brown headstall (as western bridles are called) with silver studs on it. I thought it would match his saddle. (Pictures of browband and saddle above.) Once at the barn, before taking the tags off of it, I walked out to Buckshot’s pasture and tried it on him to make sure the browband fit him. It seemed to fit him well, and he was cute about it, giving me a few headshakes and funny looks. No doubt he was thinking, not another weird thing to put on my head!

Back at the barn I attached the bit and adjusted the length to what seemed the right length. When I later groomed him and put the new headstall on him, the bit was way too low, so I moved it up a hole and Buckshot seemed okay with it. I planned to watch him closely to see if I had gotten it adjusted correctly to him. Our ride was great – and Buckshot did great! So, now (after several rides) he has a new western headstall to match his saddle and does he look handsome in it! We got several compliments on it so I hope he felt sort of proud to be wearing nice tack. Hope he doesn’t notice I’m using my braided English reins with it! LOL! Maybe someday we’ll go to split reins or to real western reins, but for the time being, I like one piece reins and it saves money to use my existing reins.

On Saturday, I got him tacked up (in his spiffy new headstall!) and we went to the round pen to ride as the main arena had a large class in it. We began with what I call Phase One, our 20 minute walking. Buckshot has not been too good at staying on the rail in the round pen, so I decided to try a technique I had learned from the reining trainer several weeks ago. This technique worked like a charm and I had Buckshot staying on the rail perfectly! I was elated! Here is the technique: while walking to the left, when Buckshot starts to fall inside, I raise the inside rein (left rein) about 6-8 inches straight up, and tap with my inside heel (left heel) behind the girth. Tap, tap, tap, and he moves back to the right where the rail is. This seems a bit counter intuitive, as I want to tap my outside heel. But the inside heel is what worked for us. We switched directions, going to the right, and when he fell into the circle, instead of staying on the rail, I did the same thing: raised the inside rein, and tapped with my inside heel. To remember it, I told myself: inside(rein), inside (heel). It was wonderful, how great it worked! I am looking forward to practicing with this in the other arena as well.

Sunday was an even more significant day for us. It was to be the second time ever I had trailered him somewhere for an outside lesson (e.g., a reining clinic). The first time we did this, about two weeks ago, he had been anxious when we arrived and it had been a struggle to get him semi-calm, tacked up, into the trainer’s arena, mounted and riding. That day, he had finally calmed down when we did our walking warm up.

So, this time, yesterday, I was nervous about how he would be. I had to calm my nerves, and give myself a pep talk and do all the things we do when we are worried about something unknown with our horses, something that elicits fear and worry in the back of our minds, that slowly creeps up to the front of our minds, despite our attempts to manage our fears. Yes, I have to confess, that’s where my head was- worried, and fearful. I thought of Winter and her second Conception ride and how she felt worried, understandably so, after the difficult first ride. See her great blog: Horsecentric (see blog roll on the right).

To walk Buckshot to the barn on Sunday morning, to groom him, we had to walk behind the trailer that sat not far from the main barn. Just walking behind it, Buckshot started blowing with his nose. Hmmm, I thought. We got to the stall where I groom him, and went in. He immediately ate the tiny bit of sweet feed I put in the feeder, and then, instead of munching the hay, as is his usual behavior, he started walking around the stall, anxiously. He stopped to put his head over the door. The barn was silent. A nearby barn had other horses being groomed but you couldn’t hear them. Perhaps Buckshot couldn’t hear any other horses. I talked to him and brushed him, and after a few minutes, he started picking at the hay. Hmmm, I thought again. I hope this isn’t a precursor of things to come, oh, no, just think pleasant thoughts, he is fine, he isn’t agitated, and he is finally eating hay. Then the BO came to tell me it was time to load the horses (we were taking four horses). I led Buckshot to the now-open trailer, and he started blowing harder, and pulling on the lead line. A gunshot went off in the far distance. When Buckshot pulls, or gets headstrong, he is very, very strong. I have to be totally focused. So I let him eat some grass and then led him to the ramp, where I handed off the lead to the BO husband. Buckshot walked onto the ramp and stopped. We gave him a moment, and then – phew!- he walked right on. I went around to his window and secured the tie and patted his head. Good boy! (And phew!) The other horses were loaded and we hopped in and left for the reining trainer’s farm, about an hour drive.

I was pretty quiet on the drive, managing my fears, because the fearful time I was dreading would occur, if at all, at the other farm. We chatted some, and I made myself think of other things. As we neared the farm, I made an all out effort to boost my confidence – I have many tools that I can use to help calm him down and to keep his mind busy, I can handle this whatever happens, I am much more prepared than I think, this will be fine because I have several things to do, and the BO and her husband are expert horse people and will help me with whatever happens, and I think things will go well because I am more competent than I have ever been, and I will be able to handle Buckshot with whatever he does. I felt better as we pulled into the drive of the farm. But still I put on gloves in case holding his lead line became a struggle (I’ve had a lead line burn on my hands before and it is serious).

I hopped out when we got parked and we opened the ramp and started unloading the horses. The first horse out crow hopped backward off the ramp, but he was fine. Second horse out backed out neatly. Buckshot was next. BO husband went into the trailer and here came Buckshot, head first. He gave me the lead line, and Buckshot was: pretty calm! As we walked a few steps on the grass, he didn’t get anxious, or worried. He dropped his head to eat grass almost immediately! Phew! I felt huge relief! He was much more calm than the last time. Oh, my gosh, I thought, this is the high point of my day – a fairly calm horse. Anything else that went well, would just be icing on the cake. Do you know that feeling?

I felt glad that I had boosted my confidence, and felt that I was prepared for anything, but even more glad that I wouldn’t have to deal with anything difficult. Phew! The BO, kind person that she is, helped me tack up Buckshot, and we went to the arena, and I mounted my calm horse! (Big smile here) We had a great session. We didn’t do too well with our cantering (we haven’t done a lot of cantering lately anyway), but the trainer let us do the exercises at the trot, and we even got some nice compliments from him. After the clinic, we loaded up our tired horses, got them safely back to the farm, unloaded and I walked Buckshot back to his pasture.

I was so proud of him! He did so well, all things considered. I was also a bit proud of myself – of my working to manage my fears and remind myself that I can handle some of the unknowns of having a horse. For me, this is a big part of being a leader to Buckshot- handling the difficult things. I haven't always done so well. And usually the fears and worries of the unknown are the biggest challenges I face. So working through one yesterday felt like a good accomplishment for me!

So today it is back to work for me and Buckshot can have a much needed break from his “person!” I hope he has lots to tell his pasturemate about his many weekend adventures!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Weekend Rides

This past weekend we had beautiful weather in Virginia – sunny and in the 60’s. Just a touch of autumn coolness, warmed ever so slightly by sunshine. Beautiful! Buckshot did great during our rides on Saturday and Sunday. We warmed up with twenty minutes of walking, and then began some trotting. We did patterns (figure eights, large circles, along the rail, and a new pattern, called riding routine), and exercises (alternate 8 strides of walking with 8 of trotting, cone bending, riding diagonally across the arena, etc). He had good energy, and a willing, responsive attitude. He didn’t seem off or stiff at all. We also walked down the driveway with other horses (the driveway I haven’t been able to get him down by ourselves, riding or in hand)- he did fine with other horses nearby. At the field arena, we walked around the perimeter, followed by one lap around at the trot. Then we went into the woods to follow the trail (again, always with at least one other horse/rider). He did fine on the trail, and wasn’t as trippy as he had been a few weeks ago. Then back down the driveway to the arena and barn to dismount. Wonderful rides! Great weather and a willing, happy Buckshot!

I also got his new bridle set up. First I removed his bit from his old bridle, which was a major accomplishment! I don’t know about you, but for me, changing a bit is one of the hardest tack jobs to do – loosening those leather straps from what seems like cement, and getting the new leather straps on exactly right is a hard job! Of course, if I had cleaned my old bridle properly all along – by disassembling it and cleaning it, instead of my short cut cleaning where I didn’t actually take it apart at all – it would come apart much easier…. Anyway, I got the bit attached to the new bridle in time for Saturday. On Saturday, after grooming Buckshot, I tried it on him. It didn’t fit! The noseband was way too tight on the farthest buckle hole. I had to take it off and go get his old bridle, and change the bit back to his old bridle, right in his stall. He stood ever so patiently as I pulled and tugged at all the straps again! LOL! I got the bit reattached to his old bridle and put it on him. (By the way, I also had cleaned the bit very thoroughly - using salt! The BO suggested this as a cleaner and it made the bit shine beautifully! )

My kind BO suggested that we put additional holes in the straps and see if that would help the new bridle fit. She has a miraculous hole-puncher that goes through leather as if it was paper! So we put multiple holes on the straps. At this point I regretted buying a “cob” size and regretted saying to myself when I bought it, “Oh, it looks like it’ll fit him…” (Just about every piece of tack I’ve ever bought Buckshot I’ve gotten the wrong size! I don’t know why I trust my eyes, and memory, and just say, “it looks like it’ll fit him!” I’ve had to return and exchange so many things I bought for him! LOL! ) But with all the new holes, and several of the straps buckled at the very, very end (with no ends to go in the leather keepers!), it fit him! I wonder if the browband is still a little too snug for him – I can move it and can just squeeze my little finger under it, but now that I know I am making a “cob” size bridle fit a “horse” size head, I wonder if the browbrand is really too small for him. I’ll see what I think later this week. I may decide to just get him another bridle altogether. But for now, at least he looks quite handsome in his new bridle!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Paintings of Buckshot

I thought I would share some of my paintings. One of my hobbies is to paint; I especially enjoy painting animals. When I first started painting, I used acrylics and primarily painted human portraits. I tried painting animals with them but found it very difficult. I now paint with pastels, which are creamy chalk-like paints that come in stick or pencil form. I was very inspired by the book Painting Animals That Touch the Heart, by Lesley Harrison, a talented professional artist. Her book really helped me with techniques of painting animals with pastels. I thought I’d share three of my paintings here. One is a portrait of Buckshot, my special horse. One is of Buckshot in his pasture. The third painting is of a wolf, and to give Lesley Harrison credit, it is a copy of a painting in her book; I copied it to practice the painting techniques.

I am not terribly pleased with the quality of results shown here. The actual paintings look better, but since these are photographs of paintings, and I tried to enhance them using Picture Manager and Paint software, these may be the best reproductions I can achieve on a computer (lol).

The Wonder of the Warmup

I am very glad to report that Buckshot has been much better during our last three rides. I have religiously been warming him up at the walk for twenty minutes, and I have seen an improvement. He has had better energy during our rides, he hasn’t been off, he has greatly reduced the times he has just stopped after an exercise, and when I ask for the trot he generally has gone immediately into a trot. I think the warmup has been very beneficial to him. I guess it really is essential to him at this point in his life. I am glad to see these improvements.

Yesterday, we not only had a good ride, it was at a new location. Several people from our barn trailered four horses, including Buckshot, to the reining trainer’s farm for a clinic. It was the first time I have ever trailered Buckshot anywhere (other than to bring him to his current farm home). When we arrived, after about an hour drive, he was a bit nervous about being in a new location. He looked around quite a bit, snorted a bit, wanted to walk, didn’t want to eat grass. I walked him around and after a few moments, I thought it would help if I gave him more direction as well, so I walked him in small patterns, asking for a turn or a circle.

After a few minutes, we tacked up and I walked him over to the outdoor arena. We walked on the dirt/sand for a few minutes and I tightened the girth. He wasn’t agitated, just nervous and needing to move more than normal. After tightening the girth, I gave him a cluck and a mint (our version of clicker training), then I moved him to the mounting block and mounted. I started walking him around the arena. More horses were coming into the arena and beginning to walk and trot around the arena. After just a few minutes of walking, Buckshot’s nervousness seemed to dissipate and we walked for twenty minutes. Then I asked for a trot, and it was instantaneous, and energetic. During the clinic, we did several exercises at the trot and canter, and wow! What cantering! He was far more energetic than he has been for the last few weeks. My ability to keep my seat in synch with him wasn’t as good as it could be, since we haven’t cantered much in recent weeks. But I was very excited to just be cantering again, and several times I put both reins in one hand, and pushed against the horn with the other and continued to canter for a longer period of time. (Sometimes when my seat isn’t making the right contact, I will hold onto the horn, not really hold on, but push against it, to help me lean further back, so my seat contact is better). It isn’t as good as riding with the reins in both hands and working on my seat, but sometimes I just do it if I just cannot seem to get my butt to do the right thing. Buckshot has a big, powerful canter so it takes work to have a good seat on him. I had been getting better, but the past few weeks, we haven’t done a lot of cantering. So yesterday it felt wonderful to feel Buckshot’s energy and enthusiasm, and to feel a speedy trotting and a powerful canter from him!

The footing in the arena was perfect and it was a nice, very, very big arena. Buckshot seemed happy to be there and be doing a lot of work. The clinic lasted for just over an hour,after which we dismounted and grazed the horses, then prepared to load them into the trailer and bring them home.

The BO told me later that Buckshot’s initial nervousness, which I would say he never lost totally while we were there, is normal when a horse goes to a new venue for the first time. She said they get used to the new location eventually. For Buckshot and I it was a wonderful day - with a lot of firsts for us, and most importantly, he did well, we did our full walking warm up, he wasn’t off, and rather, had plenty of energy (for the first time in several weeks). A great day! And, as you can tell, I am now fully committed to Buckshot having a full twenty minute warm up at the walk at every ride. Good boy, Buckshot!!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Buckshot is Better & The Equine Extravaganza...

First, I have some photos to share! Above are some recent pictures of my sweet horse, and of me with Buckshot.
Now, onto my update…..

On Thursday afternoon I rode Buckshot and he was better. I think I know why.

I took off Thursday and Friday from work so I could have extra time with Buckshot and attend a few days of the Equine Extravaganza. Thursday I went to the barn to see Buckshot. I have been reading about equine arthritis and the many conditions of stiffness that horses, particularly older horses, can get. One thing was repeated many places: warm the horse up by walking for a good long time, at least 15 to 20 minutes at the walk, to help reduce stiffness and discomfort. So on Thursday, I walked Buckshot for 20 minutes before trying the trot. And he was much better! The BO watched us ride since I had asked her to observe him, and she said he looked fine, in his front legs as well as his hind legs, at the walk and the trot. He had more energy at the trot than he has had lately, and gave a very nice extended walk when asked. We didn’t canter because 1) the day was warm, about 80 degrees, and 2) the arena had a lot of water in it from recent rains. I was thrilled and greatly relieved that he was better! And I am committed to warming him up at the walk for 20 minutes before asking for anything faster, from now on.

Thank you for the kind comments you gave on the last post! Juliette, I agree with you - especially after my experience on Thursday – that walking is extremely important – thank you for your comments. Story, you asked about supplements. At the moment, I give him MSM for joints, and Fastrack for gut and digestion/poop purposes. I’ll explore others as needed. But for the time being, I want to see if a proper, extended warm up helps him. Carol, thank you for your comments as well – what happened in late September in a reining clinic was that Buckshot fell as I asked for a stop from the canter. He apparently tripped on uneven ground, and his front feet went down, straight down, and then his back legs went straight down. He bounced back up immediately. Luckily, I stayed centered on his back just fine as he went down and came back up. I then walked him over to the side, and didn’t feel any offness or limping. I rode him a bit more later in the clinic and again, he didn’t seem off or limping. There weren’t any scratches on his legs. Then he had five days off during the week.

I’ve been riding him since then and he has seemed sort of fine at times and sort of less energetic, wanting to stop at other times. But not quite himself. So I am watching him carefully for stiffness , although I don’t know if it is caused by his age or the fall. I am encouraged by Thursday’s ride and my walking him conscientiously for 20 minutes first, because, in all honesty, I haven’t been doing that with him. In all honesty, I had kind of gotten out of the habit of doing a decent warm up. (I have always been taught the importance of warming a horse up at the walk, but slowly I shortened it, in my enthusiasm to get on with the fun stuff of trotting). So my own actions may have been pushing him into trotting before he was warmed up enough and comfortable enough to do so. I am now very committed to being conscientious about a proper warm up.

On another topic, I spent two days at the Equine Extravaganza! I got Buckshot a new halter (in black- I think he’ll look very handsome!) and a new bridle! It is a brown leather bridle with noseband and braided reins. The nose band and brow band are both padded, on the underside, where they touch the horse. I really like that feature and hope it is very comfortable for Buckshot. Finally, his first new bridle. I hope he likes it.

I saw some good clinicians and learned several interesting things. The most interesting exercise I saw was one by Colleen Kelly, an Irish speaker/ dressage judge/ horsewoman with a great sense of humor and terrific presentation skills. She had three riders in the arena with her and was trying to help them with the sitting trot. She had them walk in a circle around her, and told the riders to look at her boots as they rode. The horses all came in and made the circle smaller. It was a natural shoulder-in. Then Colleen had the riders look at signs around the walls of the building, so that the riders were looking outside of the circle. The horses all automatically moved out and made the circle larger. A natural shoulder-out. She pointed out that shoulder-in and –out work helps with both the sitting trot and the canter. I want to try that with Buckshot.

But now, I’m pooped out. I’ll enjoy some chili I made this afternoon and in the morning, go out to see Buckshot. After our 20 minute warm up, I hope he’ll be feeling great (with our now cooler temperatures) and that we’ll have a great ride!

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Bit of Soreness

I think, after my weekend rides with Buckshot, that he is experiencing a bit of soreness, of his hind legs. Both days he demonstrated the things that have been flummoxing me for a few weeks – a lack of forwardness overall, sometimes coming to a halt, intermittent energy but mostly low energy, more difficulty than normal walking on the trail. On Sunday, as I trotted him, I felt a slight offness so I asked the BO to observe him. She said he looked slightly off in the rear and perhaps a bit stiff in the rear, as if he was sore. Perhaps a bit of arthritis. So for the rest of the ride we stayed at the walk. The day before, during our ride, we cantered a few times and at the right lead he was quite unstable, steering far to the right. Several times on the right lead he didn’t go into the canter at all, but did have a big extended trot. Poor fellow, he’s probably sore, and at his twenty-something age, I can’t be surprised. I didn’t try to walk him down the road either day. We’ll work on that again another time. It’s time to get the vet out to do his annual teeth floating so I’ll ask him about this. The BO gave me some good suggestions of treatments that have worked for her horses.

I don’t know if it is related, but all of these subtle, becoming-more-obvious changes started after he fell at the canter several weeks ago. But I will look into this possibility of arthritis, and in the meantime, I'll warm him up much longer at the walk when we first start riding (I confess that I haven’t been as good about a long warm up as I should have been), and I'll try not to tax him. He’s been such a good riding horse for me- reliable and willing and energetic. Now I need to look after his needs more.

This week I also ordered my season’s supply of Bit Warmer Heat Packs. Have you seen this? It is a cloth packet you put a heat pack in, and then wrap around the bit to warm it up. It enables you to warm up the cold metal bit before you put it in your horse’s mouth, in the winter. I bought mine two winters ago and used it the last two winters. I was very pleased with how easy and effective it is. It’s affordable also- the bit warmer itself is appx $20 and the individual disposable heat packs, which have a long life, are $.95 each. The heat packs are activated by shaking and kneading them (you don't have to heat in a microwave or in hot water). I was able to reuse the heat packs quite a bit; sometimes one pack was reused two or three times. For me, they are easier than using a hair dryer to warm the bit. I highly recommend them. You can order them at the company website

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Good Ride, I Think....

How do I tell if I had a good ride with Buckshot? What are the factors that I use to evaluate our riding sessions, or our sessions together?

Ideally, I want Buckshot to have good energy in him, a sense of willingness and responsiveness, to seem to enjoy our exercises and patterns, for him to feel a sense of pride at the end of the ride, that he “did well” and if possible, for me to feel that I rode well and did some skill better than in the past. I revisited my definition of a “great ride” because this past weekend, we did not have great rides. On Saturday, he had low energy, and would demonstrate a good, energetic effort on one pattern, but not on the next. At times, just getting him to walk forward was difficult. The weather was pleasant, and the footing was pretty good, with a few rain puddles in the arena. Then, during a trail ride after our arena work, he stumbled quite a bit and seemed uncomfortable in his feet. He had been trimmed the week prior and the BO said several horses were feeling this way, since the ground is quite hard due to lack of rain.

On Sunday, he seemed similar – low energy, followed by a burst of energy, followed by wanting to stop or walk slowly – in the arena. The weather was pleasant and the footing was good- moist dirt/sand in the arena. We even tried some lateral work, where I pointed him in a straight line, held one leg out to the side (opening this side) and touching him on the opposite haunch, with the word “side, side, side.” I have been using this word with him on the ground, trying to get his back legs to cross over. Well, after gamely trying this lateral work, I burst out laughing, and told Buckshot I had no idea if he had done it or not! I told him he should never fear doing lateral work with me because I can’t tell at all if it is working! But I’ll take whatever effort he gives me as a huge success! How funny- to try it and not be able to tell if it is working! Really I was laughing at myself! And laughing while riding just feels so spontaneous and fun! Sometimes I just need to laugh, so I don’t take myself so seriously.

As other riders made their way into the arena, I decided to try and ride Buckshot down the road to the hay field. Well, we got to the start of the road and he was not going to do it. He turned around, he skittered, he stumbled on the rocks (it is a rocky area, and his feel were quite sensitive), he moved away from the road in another direction, but he didn’t feel happy about any of it. So I dismounted and tried to walk him down the road. We only got about ten feet down. He stopped and didn’t want to go further. I tried cajoling him, I tried being stern and tapping him with the crop, nothing worked. I even burst out laughing once at the – incongruity of it – my sweet, cooperative (usually), widely experienced trail horse – just didn’t want any part of this journey. So we turned back. And walked calmly back to the round pen, and rode there for a few minutes. Again, he didn’t have much energy or interest.

By this time, the other riders had left the arena for the hay field, so I took Buckshot back to the regular arena and we did more patterns and exercises. Shortly, another boarder came up with her horse and we decided to go on the trail. Buckshot did okay, but was again stumbling a bit more than normal on the roots and rocks. We ended the trail ride by walking back to the barn, on the road, the very same road he doesn’t want to go down, in the other direction. He did fine, staying on the edge of the road where the footing is soft (sending me through every single branch, leaf and brush above him!). We ended our ride and I gave him praise and carrots for his efforts.

I am a bit flummoxed over the situation of leading him down the road. I don’t understand why last weekend we walked a good distance, but this past weekend he didn’t want to go on it at all. I don’t know if this is regression, or if it will change from time to time. But I can’t force him. I want him to feel safe about it, and somehow he doesn’t feel safe. Or maybe his feet were much more sore than I realized and he just couldn’t bear the road’s rocks. This feels like one of those dilemmas that I don’t know if I should be stern and unyielding, requiring him to trust me and go where I ask him to go, or if it takes finesse and compassion on my part. I wonder if I should introduce treats and induce him to feel better about the road. Hmmm, I’ll just have to see, next weekend…..

On another topic, I saw the movie Secretariat this past Friday with my sister and several other horse lover friends. I thought it was a wonderful movie – very inspiring, very suspenseful, and a very impressive horse. To watch Secretariat run the Breeder’s Cup races so commandingly was breathtaking. I thought the human characters in the movie were pretty good overall. His owner, Penny Chenery, was inspirational in the choices she made and the financial risks she took. The moment in the movie I most remember was when the trainer said to her that she was a wonderful owner for Secretariat, and I was touched by that, coming from a rather brusque trainer. Overall, I give the movie a big thumbs up!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Equine Extravaganza Comes To Virginia

Uh, oh. I’m getting that feeling. Deep in the back of my mind, I’m getting the rare urge to spend money. I know what is causing it. In a few weeks, we will have a huge and wonderful horse convention in Richmond, Virginia. It is called the Equine Extravaganza, and it is a terrific convention. There are three days of clinicians teaching in half-hour or hour sessions on every horse topic under the sun. Some are quite famous clinicians; others are less known. There are tons of horse vendors, with tons of wonderful things to buy! There are breed barns, and stallions, and outdoor demonstrations, and a three day competition of startup training of green horses. This year all three trainers are women! I’m intrigued by that. I’ve been to several of these conventions and have loved them.

I don’t think I’ve been to the Extravaganza since I got my own horse, and I think I am about to…… buy Buckshot some things!! I may even officially spoil him!! But that’s okay, it’s time to spoil him a little. You see, when I first got Buckshot, I outfitted him in used tack- used English all purpose saddle, used bridle, even a used bit! I did buy him a new, inexpensive saddle pad, and girth. I didn’t have to buy much in the way of grooming tools because I had been slowly buying them during my years as a riding student, hoping for my own horse.

Since those early days, I have bought a new high quality western saddle, and an excellent new saddle pad, and two winter blankets. But overall, I am pretty frugal, and haven’t spoiled him. (I mean, a used bit!? At the time, I thought, is this okay? It was exactly the type of bit Buckshot used: a D ring French link snaffle. But a used bit? That has been in some other horse’s mouth? However, when I showed it to Buckshot’s previous owner, he said, that’s fine, if it is in good condition, a used bit is fine. Just like used leather tack- if in good condition, used is fine. So Buckshot has been using the used bit ever since. I do check it for wear and any pinching when I clean it.)

So now I’m thinking, it’s time to spoil Buckshot a little bit (no pun intended). And I have the urge to spend, so look out!

However, I don’t actually know how I’d spoil him…. I don’t think he’d like cubic zirconia on a bridle, or flashy boots or leg wrappings. I don’t need any (more) Breyer horses (yes, I have a few….). A brightly colored halter wouldn’t do. I don’t braid his mane or tail so hair ornaments aren’t the ticket. The only thing I can actually think of is to buy him some new treats or cookies- he loves to eat!

Maybe a vendor will sell blue ribbons! For the best, most patient horse of a new horse owner. Or for the horse with the kindest eyes. Or for the horse with the most endurance for new and confusing groundwork exercises. Buckshot deserves all those, and more, blue ribbons!
Or maybe a bridle disc (that hangs on the bridle) personalized with his name. Or a personalized halter- that would be nice! Or perhaps a new lovely bridle. Oh, I’ll have to find something a little extravagant just for him!

Because I know what I will be like when I see him after the convention. I’ll have sat through several clinics, getting inspired, taking copious notes, and I'll have lots of new things I’ll want to try with him. I’ll come back to the barn excited and inspired, and he’ll have to put up with me and my enthusiasm! What a trooper he will be, maybe chuckling slightly behind my back, but he’ll gamely try out the new techniques I learn, and he’ll let me learn that some of them won’t work for us. How can I not love a horse like Buckshot, with his forgiving and patient personality. All he really wants is for me to not forget the treats!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Interpreting the Horse, or, I Feel Like Such a Beginner

This past weekend was interesting. Saturday I found Buckshot laying in the sun (the daytime temperatures were in the mid-80’s- very hot), and at first was worried about him. Colic? Uveitis? Although laying down is not a symptom of uveitis. But he wasn’t opening his right eye much. He was calm, not pawing at his side. But still, I worry when I see him laying down.

(The reason for my instant worry is that last December, on a sunny day with snow on the ground, I found him laying down. I thought it was normal. I thought he was fine. Beginner horseowner here. I mentioned it to the BO. Then we went on to clean stalls. Then we had to round up two horses that after free-grazing, decided to walk to the next county LOL. Then back to Buckshot and he was still laying down. The BO was alarmed at this, but I, beginner horse owner, didn’t know better. It was a mild case of colic, and we gave him bute and watched him carefully for all of his pooping and peeing, which wasn’t happening, although he wasn’t terribly agitated. We put a barn blanket on him as he was wet from laying in the snow. Still, my worries grew. The next day he pooped a huge poop ball – biggest I’d ever seen come out that end – and got better after that. But I can’t get rid of a bit of worry if I see him laying down since then…..)

So Saturday, I listened to his sides- heard very faint gurgling noises – and went to get the penlight to check his eye pupils. As I moved away from the pasture, I saw him stand up. Returned to the pasture with penlight, led him into the stall (can’t see pupils when outside) and his pupils looked fine. Listened to his sides – still slight gurgling. The BO came to see him, observed he was looking alert and interested, heard same sounds in gut. So I determined he was fine. Good.

Went back to barn to get tack ready, back to pasture, he was laying down again! I squatted by him, talking to him. He was alert, but kind of sleepy. When is it sleepy and when is it lethargic, I thought to myself. They look the same to me. But since I had checked him, I thought that he was fine. I got him to stand up, and we did some of our groundwork games. He was very interested in the mints after each exercise. So by then, I knew he was really fine. Oh, gosh, sometimes I feel like such a stupid beginner at horses! But I was also glad I had the penlight, and know the symptoms of uveitis, and a bit of the symptoms of colic, and maybe, I am just a tiny bit less of a complete beginner….

I took him to the barn to groom and tack up. In the stall, he was calm and normal, but he didn’t eat any hay. Hmm. He did take a few long drinks of water from the stall bucket. Hmm. Both of those behaviors were unusual for him. I continued to observe him as I brushed and cleaned, and he wasn’t agitated or nervous. Perhaps somedays he doesn’t want to eat hay, I thought. Perhaps that is fairly normal, in the big picture. I wondered, what is the normal range of behaviors for a horse. When does a new behavior mean, something is really different vs it doesn’t happen often but it is not alarming, it is within the range of normal for him. I don’t know the answer (feel like complete beginner again).

We rode in the arena a bit later, and had a pretty good ride. Buckshot was definitely low energy, but it was a hot, sunny day, and he has quite a bit of winter coat so I couldn’t blame him. We did our patterns and exercises and he would have a good bit of energy for one pattern, but not the next one. We stopped a few times and did some “looking around” (as Kate, from A Year with Horses, wrote about lately J). We tried a new routine which included walk, trot, backing and about eight strides of canter and he did well at that. So while it wasn’t a great ride, it was good. Again, and sorry for so much philosophy here, even riding occurs in a range, from great, to, well, not great. And this was a solid, okay ride. A “B” I think. Or was it a “C?” I feel guilty that I can’t give it an “A.”

On Sunday, Buckshot seemed fine in every way, and even ate hay while we groomed. We did groundwork in the pasture, and rode in the round pen, as the arena was used for something else.

And then we walked down the road (in hand). Several times he stopped and didn’t want to go forward, but no snorting, no agitation. I tapped his shoulder with the crop a few times. Once I stopped by his head and said, yes, we’ll just think about this for a while. We’ve come further than the last time, so maybe we will just go with this success. And then he started walking again! He went another twenty feet or so, and stopped again. This was his limit for the day. But it was about fifty feet further than last weekend! Part of me feels deflated – will I ever get this horse all the way down this road? – and part of me knows that fifty feet more is a success! So I’ll take the success – Buckshot’s success, really – and be glad for it. I need to be more grateful for the small steps of progress! And see it as Buckshot’s bravery is growing, just a few steps at a time. Hooray to you, Buckshot!!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Few Small Steps of Progress!

Today, Sunday, I can say that Buckshot and I made progress going down the farm road to a hay field.

I want to be able to ride him to the grass/hay field for occasional rides there at the walk and trot. But this is the hay field where, 2 weeks ago, he fell, under me, as we cantered during a reining clinic. Luckily he wasn’t hurt that day (nor was I) but I don’t plan to canter there again. The footing is too uneven for us.

Last weekend he didn’t want to walk down the farm road at all, but showed it only by turning his legs to cement and not going any further (after which I turned him around and didn’t make an issue of it). Later that day, when on a trail ride which went through the hay field, he didn’t want to stay there when I asked. Since there were other horses there, it wasn’t about being the only horse. At that time, I asked him again, and he acquiesced and we rode at a walk and slow trot for only ten minutes. Then we walked down the road – alone – back to the barn, without incident. So I have been wonderng if he remembers his fall and he doesn’t want to go there for that reason.

I assured him yesterday that we won’t canter there again. I don’t want to risk an injury to him (especially since he is 25 years old- not young) so it is not worth it to me to canter anywhere that the footing isn’t good. I hope he understands me (smile). I also wanted to try and walk him down the road again, so I tried it before we rode.

As I led him from pasture to barn for tacking up, I went to the start of the road. Smooth as silk, one minute we were walking forward and the next, he had executed a perfect 180 degree turn without my knowing it. The aids he gave me were invisible to the human eye! (smile) So I got the message and kept him going in the direction he chose. Not going to make an issue of it. Boy, he was smooth in his maneuver, too!

Later, after we had had a good ride in the arena and a nice trail ride, he seemed relaxed. I thought about trying again. But I decided not to, with the thought that if I try it more than once per day, it could become an obsession with me, and that wouldn’t be good for either of us. So I didn’t try it again, but thanked him for a great ride. He really did a super job on the trail – he alternated as the leader and as number 2 horse, both roles done calmly and well. I was very proud of him!

Today, I decided to ride him first, and then see about asking for a walk down the road (in hand). We had a good ride, doing primarily exercises and patterns at the walk and trot. He seemed relaxed, so I decided to try walking down the road. Acting as if it was the most natural thing in the world, we headed down the road! He stopped after a few feet, where I asked again (with a little tug on the lead line and the word “walk”). And he did! And he didn’t stop! He crossed the road a few feet down (the road itself has large stones on it, so he likes to stay on the edge where the ground is stone-free and softer), and I got us turned around a bit as I switched hands. But he was walking! I chose a tree about ten more feet down as the point we’d turn around, and did so without any problem. I guess we got about fifty feet further than we last tried! That is progress!

I wonder what caused the change today. I wonder if he felt a bit more confident after our ride today (as opposed to before the ride), and the confidence made him more open to walking down the road. I don’t know. I can’t identify anything different today (when he was willing to walk down the road) from yesterday (when he did a smooth 180 to turn me around), other than when we did it, in our routine. I’ll keep you posted to see if that seems to be a factor in our progress. I am really proud of him that he went as far as he did, without any problem, other than the one initial stop. As Grey Horse Matters said, little steps are good to form a basis of trust. (Very good insight!) I hope that he is beginning to trust me more. I’ll try to keep taking little steps, not big ones.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Introducing Something New to a Horse

Yesterday, Saturday, was ridiculously hot here in Virginia. It is September, for goodness’ sake, and still in the 90’s. Buckshot already has grown his winter “jacket” because, as you probably know, the thicker hair growth occurs as the hours of daylight change, not as the temperatures dip. So he continues to grow thicker hair, even though it is too hot for it. He can’t help it.

So I planned to ride him very lightly yesterday because of the hot temperatures. We started with groundwork in his pasture, using small plastic cones (bright pink – but I wonder what color they are to him?) that I bought at Target. I placed them in a line and we did cone bending around them, then used them to mark areas to do circles. We did turns on the hindquarters, and circling around me. He seemed to enjoy it, especially the mints he got after each successful exercise. Then after tacking him up, we went to the arena and did primarily walking and trotting. We tried one canter, which was okay, and we spent a lot of time standing in the shade. When the 1:30 class convened, we did a nice long trail ride through the woods, and after that, I rinsed him off. He was very good- especially with having to do riding work in high heat while wearing his winter jacket!

Today, Sunday, the temperatures were cooler – in the low 80’s, but still humid. I am still patiently, well, not so patiently, waiting on the actual autumn cooler temperatures. Sorry I keep griping about this. We began with more groundwork, including our game of “walking the fenceline” where we walk along the fence, and intersperse it with circles, or stop and backing, or circling around a tree. After the groundwork, I tacked him up and went to the arena for a while. We did walk and trot patterns, and a few canters. He wouldn’t pick up the right lead at all. He was pretty good on the left lead, going down the long side of the arena. But the right lead evaded us.

When another rider came into the arena, I decided that we would walk down the farm road to the new “arena” area in the hay field, and do some walking and trotting. We have never walked down this road on our own, in the past we are always with other horses and riders. But we struck out for the hay field anyway. Buckshot did fine for the first hundred feet. The road turned and we went around the stallion pasture. The stallion was not interested in us and didn’t bother us. Buckshot went another thirty feet and stopped. I urged him on. He remain stopped. Not snorting, or agitated, or turning around, or any behaviors, just feet that were absolutely planted in place. Did not move. Could not move.

Okay, I thought, I’ll get off and we’ll walk down there. That’s fine for a first time. So I dismounted, and started to lead him. Feet still totally planted. Not moving. At all. I asked for two steps in the direction of the hay field, then we’ll go back, I promised. Feet still planted. Turned to cement. So after a few minutes, I turned him around. We’ll try it again, I said. We’ll get further next time, I’m sure.

I wasn’t mad. It was a new thing for Buckshot and he let me know it really worried him to go down that road by ourselves. And he didn’t act bad, he just didn’t move his feet. (There are much worse ways for a horse to say no, so in all, I don’t feel bad about it.) But I do plan for us to get down that road eventually, and enjoy using the new riding area.

A bit later, we joined a few riders for a trail ride, and the trail goes by the new hay field area. Two of the riders stayed there to ride. The other three of us continued on another trail in the woods. On the return route, we passed the hay field again, and this time, I stayed with the two riders in the hay field. Buckshot did not want to do this; he wanted to follow the horses back to the barn. He stretched his neck in their direction to let me know his opinion, but after I turned him and gave a little leg, he agreed to do what I asked.

Buckshot and I did some walking and trotting in the hay field, while the other two riders went far off into other areas of the hay field. After a few minutes, I decided that was enough and we would go back to the barn. I started walking Buckshot down the road to the barn. He did fine, walking by ourselves, going in this direction. We got back to the barn and I dismounted and gave him his after-ride carrots, a bath and a stopping-for-grass walk back to his home pasture.

So we did some new things today- some that we will continue to work on, as they definitely worry Buckshot, and others that he did without missing a beat. But I am proud of him – he is very tractable with most everything I ask of him, and when he voices an opposing opinion, sometimes he will go ahead and give in to my directions; other times he just very politely, and very firmly, plants those legs and won’t go another inch (smile). And that is the clue to me that I have to use a different approach and take his worries into consideration. Still, I love him and think he is a wonderful horse!!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Virginia State Fair! And Horses!

Today I skipped work and went to the state fair! Well, actually, I politely asked my boss about it and got his permission to take the day off. This was the day that the Virginia Reining Association had a show and I wanted to see it. There weren’t too many audience members so I sat right behind the judges, up high on the bleachers, for a good view. Watching the great horses and riders is very inspiring. I noted how one horse does the most wonderful controlled canter, then speeds it up when the rider asks, then gently slows it down when asked, all so effortlessly. One horses spins beautifully, while another has to be talked through it one spin at a time. Another made a nice big curlicue (spelling?) down the arena and end the spins twenty feet from where they started. But then that horse has a beautiful canter that takes my breath away. I found myself thinking, I guess I’d put up with that spin also, if I got that wonderful canter. So maybe your horse can’t do everything, but the one or two things he does well, are worth it. This was in the early classes, where I guess the less-experienced riders were showing.

Unfortunately, and unbelievably, it was 96 degrees today, with a hot, hot sun, a did-you-put-on-a-double-dose-of-sunscreen day, a where-oh-where-is-some-shade kind of day. So I baked and sizzled as I watched the riders.

At one point, in the distant recesses of my hearing, I heard a clop, clop, double clop, clop, clop, double clop, that finally got my attention, and I turned around to see- 6 huge Percherons, all black, with hardly any tack on them at all, but strung together in a driving formation, with a man riding roman-style, standing on the backs of the rear 2 horses, driving them down the roadway! Wow! One man and six Percherons! (And a few helpers walking at the sides of the horses, thank goodness!) I had passed the stalls of the Percherons when I first came in, and had stopped to watch a groom vacuum the side of one horse, a horse I had to look up very, very far to see! He said the horse was 19 hands! My gosh! What a horse! To see them being driven, roman-style, was awesome. The horses went into a nearby arena and did a short show of circles and figure eights, and then, clop-clop-clop back to their stalls. I believe the act is called Thundering Percherons, from Texas, and it is impressive.

During a break in the reining show, I went in search of something horsey to buy, and could only find a $1.75 curry comb! (I tried to buy more, I really did, but I couldn’t find anything else, in the one horse-related booth! And my money was burning a hole in my pocket also!). So I got some iced tea, and went back to my bleachers (I had the entire bleacher section to myself!).
Then the more experienced reining riders and horses started competing. And their skills were thrilling to watch. These horses could do all of the maneuvers, and do them well.

After just a few hours, the heat and sun drove me away. It was just too darn hot. And I hadn’t put a double dose of sunscreen on. It was a good day, and it makes me yearn to see Buckshot. I think that if I had been a horseperson when I was younger, I might have wanted to do some competing. But I have heard that it can also be a mixed blessing, that there are good and bad aspects of competing. So I will just take from it the inner inspiration it gives me – to strive to be the best rider and owner I can be, for Buckshot, and to enjoy all of his strengths and good points. If that is what watching a competition can give to me, that is a good thing.

Monday, September 20, 2010

New Footing and Whoops!

This past weekend a new riding area was used at the barn- a grassy area that is a hay pasture, which right now is just short grass. The plan is to make it into a reining arena. One section is marked off with overturned buckets at the corners. We used it on Saturday for the 1:30 class, and all the riders just trotted the perimeter once. Buckshot did fine.

On Sunday we used it for the reining clinic. As I rode Buckshot in a canter in one direction, we did okay, not great. As I brought him to a stop, he fell! His front feet went down, and then his hind feet, straight down, beneath me. I leaned back slightly, and then, immediately, he was back up. The reining trainer, sitting on his horse nearby, said uneven ground caused it. As I walked Buckshot to the side, he didn’t limp or seem hurt at all. A while later, after other riders had their turns, I rode him again, trying the canter to the right. It didn’t go very well. The trainer got on him and rode him – beautifully, and energetically, all around the large, grassy arena. Wow – look at how great Buckshot can do the canter! When a truly expert rider is on his back.

Maybe someday, I’ll be able to ride the canter like that. For now, I just have to work on the basics, and the aids, and be glad for small bits of improvement. Like last Wednesday, when we did some great cantering. But I guess that doesn’t happen all the time.

(And in the back of my mind, I still feel bad about his fall. Like I am working him too hard. But the trainer said it was due to the footing. He commented about the footing with other horses also, pointing out that sometimes short grass is slippery to their feet. When I later rode Buckshot again- he didn’t feel off at all. And the trainer rode him as well. He didn’t have any scratches on him, or swollen spots on his legs. But still, I wonder if he is sore today… My sweet horse…)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

"Note to Self" on the Canter

Please remember that when trying to canter, wait until you are ready. Wait until the horse is ready. Make sure he is listening to you and responding to other cues. Make sure you can feel some impulsion in him.

Get your head in gear and engaged properly. Keep your energy at an appropriate level. Don’t be a “hot” human – mentally prancing and jigging wanting to let loose at the canter. Control your energy.

Choose the pattern- straight down the rail or into a circle or a specific pattern. Choose the starting point. Then get your aids organzed. You will sit back. A little further. You will move your legs into position- inside leg, a bit forward, outside leg, a bit back. Leave reins at normal length. Remember to lift the inside rein slightly when giving the cues.

Approach the spot of departure. Give the aids, including the kiss sound. Give him the reins. Keep seat twisting and in contact with saddle. Breathe. Maintain a good give-and-take with the reins. Steer him. Steer him. Steer him. Breathe. Think ahead. At end of arena, give more leg around the corners. Steer him. Pick a point to return to trot. Go into trot. Thank him. Come down to walk. Breathe out.

Now think – what did I just do right? What did I just do wrong? Pick one thing, just one thing, to work on on the next canter. Rest, at the walk. Give him a rest. Keep your mind engaged. Good work, Jan! Now do this about five thousand more times and we’ll have a good canter!

Results of “Note to Self”
I had the opportunity to take a day of vacation this week and go out to the barn. I planned to get my car serviced in the morning, and spend time with Buckshot in the afternoon. The car servicing became a nightmare, and I got to the barn a bit later than expected, a bit frazzled. But the farm was wonderfully quiet and peaceful and as I got Buckshot from his pasture, he seemed normal, in a good mood and eager to do something. I chose to table the round pen work and after tacking him up we went into the arena.

We did about twenty minutes of warm up and easy exercises at the walk and trot. Then, calmly, I decided it was a good time to try the canter. I did not shorten my reins; rather I left them at their normal length, since I knew that I have a tendency to inadvertently shorten them while cantering. I did most of the steps from my “note to self.” Buckshot went immediately and calmly into the canter! I had good seat connection with the saddle. I kept my hands low, and as we approached the turn, I consciously kept my hands low, gave a little leg and we went successfully around the turn, still in the canter, still calm, still connected! Wonderful! At the end of the arena, we went down to the trot and then walk, and I praised Buckshot! What a good horse!

We did the canter again, in the same direction. Same preparation. And wow! Again, it was a calm, non-rushing, controlled canter with me having good seat contact, and lower hands, and Buckshot maintaining the canter all the way around the arena, so we kept going. We did a second revolution of the arena, at a good canter! Wow- this is a first for us! Twice around the arena, at a good, controlled canter! I was thrilled! Good boy!

After this second canter, I determined to take a break and stay at the walk for several minutes. We did serpentines and spirals at the walk. Then we did the canter in the other direction. This is his weaker direction, to the right. Our canter was a bit weaker, mostly in my steering, because he goes much more toward the center when cantering to the right, but it was a good canter for us. Good boy! And then, another canter to the right. Another good effort by us! Then back to walking, and doing a few patterns at the walk/trot.

What a good accomplishment! I didn’t flail and kick, or bring up my energy to the frantic point that, I think, incites Buckshot to rush. I focused on keeping my hands low, seat connected, steering and voila! A terrific canter resulted! I praised him enthusiastically, gave him a treat, and took him to untack and rinse him off.

Maybe Buckshot – at the canter – is one of the horses I’ve heard about, but didn’t think I’ve ridden: the horse that does a gait only when the rider gets all of the aids exactly correct. At other gaits, I would describe him as being usually eager. Eager to trot, so he responds immediately. Eager to work, so he responds to “walk” readily. But at the canter, perhaps he needs the rider to get it right, exactly right, and then he can/will canter nicely.

Or perhaps it is that as I get better, a tiny bit at a time, he can/will canter nicely. Either way, my focus is important in this gait. And it was wonderful to see some improvement and be able to canter longer, and better, than ever.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Weekend Worries

I have read that it is important to know your horse’s normal behaviors, mannerisms and quirks, so that you will recognize when he is not normal. In a bittersweet way, this adage helped me last Saturday. In fact, I spent the day accumulating a list of “hmmm, that isn’t normal for Buckshot….” things in the back of my mind. In the round pen groundwork, there was some gooey stuff in his mouth, what is that? Smell his breath (as if that will tell me something!)- smells like horse, and mints (I’d given him a mint after he successfully completed an exercise). Then… in the barn, in the stall we use for grooming and tacking, he didn’t immediately eat the tiny bit of sweet feed I put in the food bucket, which he usually eats immediately. Hmmm. He stood calmly, looking forward, but not excited about the sweet feed. He wasn’t agitated, or nervous. I started brushing him; he finally ate the sweet feed. Good. Then he “let down.” He commonly does this during grooming. In addition, I thought that must be good- a horse in any distress would not let down. But, while riding, he seemed slightly off, low energy, not quite right, but not lame, and after a rest in the arena, he showed great energy, but not for long. After riding, he was fine. Went back to his pasture, nibbling on grass on the way.

A few hours later, I fed the four horses in his barn area their dinner, and Buckshot seemed to be done quite fast, so I checked his food bucket. There was quite a bit of feed still left! Buckshot never leaves any of his feed, so this was a big red light to me. I stood and watched him; he picked at his pile of after-dinner hay, then rolled(!), then stayed laying down. In a few moments, he raised his head up and stayed in that laying-down-but-with-head-up position. Not good. Definitely not normal, but not pawing on his side. I went on to feed the next barn’s horses, keeping an eye on Buckshot’s area, which I couldn’t see clearly as there was a waist-high vegetable garden in my line of sight. When I had completed the second barn, I went immediately to see Buckshot- he was standing again. Whew. Good.

I went to find the BO and tell her, and after feeding one more barn, we went to Buckshot’s pasture. He was standing over a small pile of hay, looking interested but not eating much, and he was doing a little quidding. He didn’t act distressed, just subdued. She listened to his sides (“good gut sounds”), observed him (“he is interested and alert, no signs of fever, ears are not hot, no colic ridge on his belly”), concluded he is having a mild colic, an upset stomache kind of thing, and decided that she would check on him throughout the night, and give Banamine if needed. As we walked toward the gate, Buckshot walked up to her and nuzzled her pocket gently. She must usually keep treats there. So that was a small, good sign.

I worried Saturday night. Our riding had been pretty good, but he hadn’t been himself, and now I knew why! I wondered if I had overworked him, with our round pen groundwork, followed by round pen riding, followed by arena riding, and then a trail ride. He worked almost three hours on Saturday, with two and a half of that being riding work! Oh, I felt guilty. Why didn’t I cut back on the work once I had seen a couple of “not normal for Buckshot” things? The word “colic” scares me, almost irrationally. But I knew the BO would look after him with all the care and expert knowledge of a very experienced horsewoman. Still, I worried. It was hard to concentrate on anything else on Saturday night.

I was out early Sunday morning to see Buckshot and got to the barn before they fed breakfast. As I drove up the long driveway, I scanned the far horizon for Buckshot’s pasture. Both horses looked like they were standing. Good! As I got out of my car, the BO approached me with her thumb up and a big smile on her face. She pointed to Buckshot’s pasture- “Look at them! They’re waiting for their breakfast!” I hurried around the corner and could clearly see Buckshot and Lucky, looking expectantly, ears forward, standing side-by-side, ever hopeful that breakfast was coming soon! Whew – a big exhale of relief went through me! The BO said she had checked him twice on Saturday night and both times he seemed normal. She also thought he had pooped. Great news!

I walked, faster than normal, to his pasture and found Buckshot to be his normal, “is it time to eat?” self! Wonderful! He ate all of his breakfast and moved right away to his hay, all in his normal manner. Wonderful! I gave him a hug, and gushed shamelessly all over him. I stayed with him, hanging around for a few hours, telling him how glad I was that he felt better, cleaning poop in all the stalls, watching him, just hanging out. He seemed fine and, after his breakfast was all put away, he actually seemed energetic and animated. I asked him “Do you want to do something? Do you want to ride?” He said yes (or so I assume). So we rode on Sunday, but only for an hour. He had fairly normal energy, but the ride wasn’t the best. This was not due to Buckshot, rather, another rider was using half of the arena, so we had limited space to do our work. But overall, it was wonderful that he had recovered and felt better.

This was one of those times that I really felt the weight of my inexperience – I’ve been riding and learning about horses for only eight years, and have had my own horse for only two and a half years. There is so much to know about them, and sometimes we only see very subtle signs of something that needs attention. I am ever so grateful for the really experienced horsepeople around me, especially my BO.

(Note: I’ve since learned that my rule of thumb, a horse can’t be in distress and “let down,” is not accurate. Apparently a horse might do so, to help relieve some internal pressure. So even though my knowledge was lacking, it was still good that I was observing him so carefully. Still, I wish, in hindsight, that I had put the pieces together more quickly and not worked him so hard. )