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!!