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!