Monday, January 31, 2011

Weekend Surprises and Discoveries.....

This past weekend, late January, offered up two very pleasant mid-winter days. Saturday had pleasant temperatures in the forties, no sign of any rain or snow, and sun peeking through some clouds. The kind of day where I arrived at the barn fully layered up in shirts, fleece, vest and jacket, and proceeded to take one off, then another, then put something back on, hat on, earmuffs off, hat off, gloves off then on- that kind of day. The main arena was usable; a little wet, but not frozen solid, so it was usable.

Good news awaited: the BO said we’d go to the reining trainer’s farm the next day for a clinic. But-surprise!- she couldn’t go; she needed to stay and have her regularly scheduled lessons as many students were dying to ride in non-arctic conditions. (Oh, no, I thought. She is the expert, my mainstay, the person I know I can rely on to handle anything that comes up with Buckshot or any horse, the person I can turn to for anything. I felt unmoored when she told me she couldn’t go. What would I do if anything comes up? I was worried, but I didn’t say anything. I told myself that the BOHusband is an expert horseman and could also handle anything that comes up, but you know the feeling, oh, my ….)

I turned my attention to Buckshot - went on to play with him, groomed him, tacked him up and we walked in the soft arena. The rest of the class prepared their horses and we walked in the arena until time for the class to go out on the trail. A lovely trail ride; Buckshot was calm, happy. We arrived at the field arena and found its footing to be quite nice. Since we had been walking for over twenty minutes, I trotted Buckshot. He felt good under me; I think he felt good in himself.

In the back of my mind, a quandary floated. If the BO didn’t go with us to the reining farm, how would I tack him up at the reining farm? She had helped me last time, by tacking him while I held his lead line. It took both of us to do it. I hadn’t yet tied him to the trailer as the other horses did, because, well, I didn’t know how he would do being tied, and I wasn’t too willing to try it. But as I rode him on Saturday, a lovely, calm, sunny day, I thought, well, today would be a good day to practice tying him and tacking him up by the trailer. Everything is calm, lovely, without problems. Yes, today, I will do it! I will practice with him! I will summon up my best trainer-attitude – yes, of course, we will get this done, and if something comes up, we’ll deal with it successfully and creatively, but overall, Buckshot is a good, reliable horse, it’s just been my apprehensions that have prevented me from addressing this, so today, I will, we will. And we did.

After the ride, I got our halter, lead line, a bag of carrot pieces, and a bag of apple pieces and led him over to the trailer, telling him that we had a bit more work to do before we were done. I first had to figure out how to get the bridle off, and the halter on, without any help. Well, it wasn’t very smooth, and once Buckshot realized there was grass all around his feet, well, he was very distracted.

But I got it done, and tied him to the trailer. No panic, no pulling back. Good boy! I took off his saddle and pad and laid them on the ground. Then gave him treats. Good boy. Then I put the pad and saddle back on him. And I got his bridle back on him, and the halter off of him, again, in a confusing maze of leather and cotton lines, trying hard to keep them separate, and keep him from eating, and stay calm, but in the end, he was tacked up again. We walked around for a moment, and then back to the trailer. We did it again, and more treats. He did fine, and when I finally led him back to the barn to really get untacked, I was very proud of both of us. We had done it! Practiced tying at the trailer, and tacking up! Great discovery, about Buckshot, and about myself- I am able to move beyond my apprehensions of something new with him, and channel a calm, trainer-like attitude! Great self discovery!

The other thing I had to learn on Saturday was the correct safety steps of loading and unloading horses on the trailer (something I had always left to the expert BO). She explained them to me, and Saturday night I went over them in my mind several times to commit them to memory. I wanted to be able to competently help the BOHusband on Sunday.

Sunday went great! I got Buckshot groomed, and I didn’t panic when he started to blow at first sight of the trailer, or when he appeared nervous during grooming. I stayed calm and remembered that a little nervousness of the horse is fine and doesn’t mean he is getting agitated. He acted reticent just a tiny bit as the BOH loaded him on the trailer, along with two other horses.

But after we arrived at the reining farm, he came off the trailer fine and I walked him around competently, and then tied him and proceeded to tack him up. I had to ask the BOH for help getting him bridled but that was fine. And Buckshot definitely didn’t want to stand still when I tightened the girth (need to revisit our clicker training on this again), but we got it done, and got mounted and walking in the arena.

We had a great clinic; after our twenty minute walking, we did some good trotting and some good cantering. I didn’t do very well at all on the canter to the right; I was stiff as a board and pulling on the reins and didn’t feel I had any control going to the right. I will have to work on that, when we are able to canter again. But I did very well at the canter to the left, and I felt great about it (since we hadn’t cantered in weeks). Overall, it was a great session.

When we were finished, Buckshot’s chest area was wet with sweat; since he has a long coat, he sweats easily. I had thought ahead to bring a curry comb and brush so I brushed him. I wish I had thought to bring a towel as well, to try and dry him a bit. After I got the bridle off, and the lead line was around his neck, he used all one thousand pounds to easily drag me over to some grass he absolutely had to nibble on. I tugged, and tugged, and realized that it’s all in the positioning. I moved the lead line up behind his ears, and then I was able to gently steer him back to the trailer to remove the saddle. Then we walked back to the grass and he nibbled happily. We got back in the trailer (with me remembering all the new steps!) and had a tired, but happy ride back to the farm. I got a tired but strong Buckshot out of the trailer and we went back to his home pasture, where he immediately walked purposefully over to just the right spot, and down he went, to roll. And my “aging” horse even rolled all the way over! How cute! I hope he isn’t too sore today!

It was a good weekend where I discovered a few valuable strengths in me, and more good things about Buckshot. He’s a good horse. And I’m still learning. (LOL)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Reflections... and Wonders....

Driving home from work tonight, the darkness enveloping, the shrill, sharp cold air surrounding my car, but me, within, nicely warm, driving slowly from stoplight to stoplight, I reflected on something I’d heard today. A radio program by a physicist who talked about matter and expanding universes and how math could explain all of life…..

And I thought, I don’t think so. There are huge things in life that my experience convinces me cannot be explained or quantified by math. There was the huge, black devastation I felt some twelve years ago when my mother died. A huge gulf of grief devastated me as I saw and felt for the first time, with a loved one, the bleak horror of death’s permanence. I learned that life held a terrible thing, one that I hadn’t even imagined.

Also, there are great mysteries of wonder that no science can quantify. For me, there are wonders of horses that transcend life’s banalities or life’s horrors. Just this past weekend, I enjoyed the wonder of a horse walking by my side, head down and relaxed, on a loose lead line. My heart warmed and swelled at seeing his trust and willingness to be at my side. The wonder of a powerful horse responding to my slight leg pressure to trot, amazes me. My sweet horse also stood so still and calmly while I intruded upon his dignity to wipe his behind of extra “dirt” (from soft poop), to make him more comfortable. I’d led him to a spot away from the prying eyes of other horses so as not to embarrass him as I did this clean up. Instead of fidgeting or worrying, he stood calmly as I took care of the task at hand, and then I rewarded him with a treat.

They may seem small and inconsequential, but to me, these are wonders- awesome, secret moments with horses that give me treasured gifts of love, trust, gladness, and “being there-ness.” Some of these moments are as quietly thrilling as they are ordinary. These are just some of the wonders I’ve been honored to experience with horses.

Now, reveries over, I’ll turn to a different topic.

Thank you so much to the bloggers who awarded me the Stylish Blogger award. I am very appreciative of everyone who reads my blog. And the thought of winning an award is just amazing to me. So thank you very, very much!

Now, I’ll share seven things you might not know about me.
1. I am the only person in my family to have a horse. I don’t come from a horsey family. I have a sister who rides in a lesson on Saturday so I am not alone in loving horses.

2. I’ve only been riding for about eight years. I’ve been taking lessons since the beginning.

3. Buckshot is my first horse. I am thrilled, and honored to be his person. We take lessons, ride solo, ride in reining clinics, ride on trails and do groundwork.

4. I have been writing a book about my horse experiences and it is ready to start the publishing phase. I’ll probably self-publish it. Buckshot might be famous some day! (I’ve mentioned this to him and he doesn’t seem the least bit impressed! LOL)

5. My other hobbies, for the few hours I’m not at the farm, are reading, cooking and painting. I love to paint horses and dogs mostly.

6. I started painting several years ago after my mother died. I felt a need to paint portraits of her, and so I did. I haven’t had any painting instruction. But it helped me heal after her death.

7. I love coffee, tea, donuts and cinnamon scones. I’ve even developed my own recipe for cinnamon scones! A few years ago, I entered a cooking contest, hoping to win a million dollars to help me get my own horse. I didn’t win. But I still got a horse!

I really enjoy reading a small number of blogs, and many of them have received and deserved multiple awards. So I have scoured the internet to find some new ones to pass this award onto. I apologize that I haven’t found fifteen but I would like to introduce you to these blogs. They are: 1. A Collection of Madcap Escapades, by Dom; 2. Mugwump Chronicles, by Janet; 3. Oh Horsefeathers ; 4. Solitaire Mare; 5. Trail Riding Cowgirl; 6. EquineMine. I hope you visit and enjoy these blogs!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Winter Rides

This past weekend we had lovely winter weather, finally! The temperatures were in the 30’s, with sunshine and light breezes. No rain, no snow, no sleet! With a bit of layering clothes, it was really very comfortable. Most of the mud was dried somewhat so can’t complain about mud. The main arena at the barn was still pretty solidly frozen, although sections of it had thawed and didn’t feel like concrete underfoot.

The woods were lovely, with bare trees, sunshine peeking through in spots, and a soft, leaf-padded footing for the horses. The field arena was full of soft, moist earth that provided just a tiny bit of give under the horses hooves.

Buckshot and I rode both days and had a great time each day! On Saturday, our class walked through the woods to the field arena, and spent some time doing normal arena work there. After ensuring that we had walked for our twenty minute warmup, Buckshot and I trotted. He had good energy and seemed so glad to be trotting. It had been over a month since we have done any of our normal arena work. I was delighted that he was energetic. I had to make sure not to indulge my desire to trot, trot and trot some more, and not overdo it for him. So I alternated walking after trotting.

One time when I asked for a trot, Buckshot responded with a powerful trot that changed into a canter! I rode it for four or five strides before bringing him back to the trot. I was glad he felt like cantering, even if I hadn’t specifically asked for it. We trotted and walked and trotted some more, feeling like we were flying! The weather was just nicely cool, and the footing, nicely padded, and since we hadn’t worked like this in weeks, it all just felt heavenly! When I dismounted later, I told him what great work he had done! I hope he felt proud of himself.

Sunday Buckshot and I went out with a different group of riders through the woods and to the field arena. We walked and trotted and did a few canters. It felt wonderful! Buckshot had pretty good energy again, although he didn’t canter quite as easily. Still it was a good ride. When we had ridden long enough in the arena, we headed back through the woods. The BO wasn’t on this ride so I was leading. I missed a marker (all the paths are covered with leaves and looked identical!) and started leading Buckshot straight through the woods. The girl behind me stayed on the correct trail and called out to me that I had missed it. I finally got Buckshot back to the trail just fine, but I may need a GPS next time :).

After untacking Buckshot, I walked him very slowly back to his pasture, letting him graze more than normal to thank him for being such a great horse. This was after the post-ride carrots and apples and horse muffins! (I really believe in treats for him!)

I heard once that a horseman judges a horseperson by how they treat their horse after the ride. I think of that and try to show my appreciation to Buckshot after our rides. My perspective is that he has done very good work under saddle, with a still-learning rider, and together we both got back safely. To me, that is a great ride and worthy of my appreciation to him.

Speaking of appreciation, I want to thank Mare of Simply Horse Crazy blog for awarding me my first blog award! I am thrilled; thank you so much! I know that I am a relative newcomer in the horse blogging world and so receiving this award is such an honor! As soon as I receive the check (I’m sure there is a big check that goes with this, right?) I will fulfill all the requirements. I’m going to take a few days to come up with my list of seven things about myself and fifteen new great blogs to pass the award to. I don’t read a huge number of blogs. I read about twelve blogs faithfully, and explore others when I have time. Otherwise, I’d be on my computer all the time! But I will pass the award on as required. Thank you, again, Mare! It’s great reading about you and your wonderful horse!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Buckshot's Backstory

I don’t think I’ve ever explained much about Buckshot’s history. I got him three years ago. I was riding him in lessons at a Thoroughbred racing barn. This farm trained and raced Thoroughbreds, boarded other horses, and offered riding lessons and trail rides. When the barn owner asked if I’d be interested in buying him, I had been riding him in lessons for about four months, so I knew first hand that he was a great riding horse and had a reliable, fairly laid back personality.

I had also grown very fond of him. In fact, one day after I untacked him and was about to give him his post-ride carrots, another rider came up and took him from his stall to ride him immediately. I went around the corner and cried! I hadn’t been able to thank him for his work in our lesson and I felt very sad about that omission. That told me I had grown to love this horse (smile).

After I bought him, I asked the barn manager more about his history. This is what I learned.

Some years ago, two people had gone to a farm in a neighboring county to get a horse that was for sale. In the pasture, they tried and tried to catch the horse, but couldn’t. However, Buckshot kept coming up to them during the chase. They left that day with Buckshot. (He is a very social horse and loves people!)

They sold him to a man who wanted a horse to do fox hunting. But apparently he and Buckshot didn’t get along and the ownership didn’t last long. Buckshot came back to them. (I can understand this; Buckshot isn’t a horse that responds well to being ordered about; he needs to be cajoled into something, and then he will tell me that my idea is just fine and is just what he wants to do.)

At some point, he became a track pony at a race track, possibly in New Jersey. A track pony is the horse that the outriders ride; sometimes to escort the racehorses to the starting gates; sometimes to run and catch a racehorse that has dumped his jockey and is running off. Buckshot was apparently a very good track pony, and others offered to buy him from his owner. (I think this is why Buckshot is good around other horses; he is used to having brash young Thoroughbreds bang about. Perhaps catching loose horses, and having to go fast to catch them is why his canter is so powerful today. He may be used to being asked for speed and he gives speed! And my attempts at a slow lope are hard for him given his history.)

He developed a bowed tendon on one leg and that ended his career as a track pony (thankfully). He then came back to the Thoroughbred farm and was used for riding lessons and trail rides. This is the point at which I met him. The first time I was given him to ride I didn’t like him at all. I thought he was too much horse for me. (Other than bobbing his head, I don’t really remember what he did that I didn’t like.) At the end of the lesson, I thought to myself, Well, I don’t ever want to ride that horse again! For the next few months, I rode other lesson horses. Then months later, the barn had an adult riding camp over a weekend. The lesson horse I liked the best and wanted to ride was taken – his owner wanted to ride him (imagine that!). So I was forced to ride the only horse available, which was Buckshot. And I found I liked him quite well. Perhaps I was a tiny bit better rider, or a tiny bit more confident, that the thought of riding the “wild Appaloosa” didn’t turn out bad at all.

In fact, I just kept riding him from then on, and liked him more and more. He was reliable to ride at the walk and trot, and challenging to ride at the canter. So, little by little, I came to love this wonderful horse. I talked about getting a horse of my own, but didn’t have a lot of money for it. I remember one day thinking to myself, of all the horses I know, which one would I really like to have for my very own? Definitely Buckshot! And then a few weeks later, the barn owner offered him to me! It was a dream come true for me! A bit later, he and I moved to a different boarding farm, which is where he lives today. We take lessons and ride in the arenas and the trails there.

So that is a bit about his history. Three years ago, when I bought him, I was told he was sixteen years old. So today that would make him nineteen years old. But the vet has said in the past year that he is in his mid (or late!) twenties! So he is a bit older than I thought, but I love him dearly and plan to ride him for ten more years (hopefully) and then, if and when he can’t be ridden, we will groom, hand graze and do groundwork together forever. My sweet, sweet Buckshot!

This past weekend, we were lucky enough to have two rides! Although the main arena’s footing was too frozen to ride on, we walked on the trails and rode on the softer field arena. It was cold, but I bundled up warmly and enjoyed our times together!

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Year's Weekend

The good, the bad and the ugly – that about sums up this past New Year’s Weekend. Good: because I had Friday off work as a holiday, so I got to see Buckshot! And Saturday, we even got to ride on the trail through the woods! The bad was the weather: most of the weekend was a weird blend of warm temperatures mixed with a coolness that caused me to alternately sweat or be chilled, no matter how many layers I had on or took off! On Sunday the weatherman through in lots of rain and nonstop mist (clearly he doesn’t have a horse!). And the ugly was the mud – lots and lots of thick, gooey, deep mud that at times trapped my boots by suction until I learned to walk in it by twisting my feet with every step to prevent the suction trapping! Thank goodness for muck boots, which kept me dry and which kept about half of the mud off my jeans.

On Friday the worst weather hadn’t yet arrived, but the arena was still trapped by ice and snow, so Buckshot and I did our groundwork games and exercises in his pasture. Then we did hand grazing on surrounding land so he could find some wonderful grass morsels to nibble. Then it was off to the main barn so I could properly groom and brush and spoil him, and then back to his pasture, hand grazing the whole way! It gave us a lot of chatting time and was a nice day, despite not being able to ride. The BO and BOH missed being able to ride as much as I did, so we contemplated a trail ride on Saturday, conditions permitting. We walked through the wooded trail to determine the footing conditions. Surprisingly, the footing in the woods was very nice, with a soft padding of leaves and little snow. Except the bridge. The bridge was covered with a menacing blanket of snow, so we plotted routes that would allow us to avoid the bridge. We planned to have a New Year’s Day trail ride through the woods!

The next day, Saturday, New Year’s Day, the weather was in the fifties but felt colder , and the sky was totally gray. After I got to the barn and went out to see Buckshot, I walked down the trail to see the condition of the bridge. Most of the snow had melted and I scraped some remaining patches of it to the side with my boots. It looked passable now, even for a nervous horse, but I would let the BO know its condition before we started riding. Our trail ride consisted of six riders and horses. We mounted up and we took off into the woods. Hooray, we’re riding! LOL! We had a lovely, peaceful ride through the woods, over the bridge without incident and onto various trail routes that wander through the property. Overall a wonderful start to the new year! With wonderful horses (especially Buckshot!) and lovely scenery!

Saturday night I baked brownies for the farrier. I wanted to have a Christmas gift ready on his next scheduled visit (which is January 3rd) to thank him for his good work on Buckshot all year. I baked a batch of my best brownies and put them in a holiday box. I always want the vet and farrier to think favorably of Buckshot and me (LOL) plus they both give us such great service all year, I want them to know of my appreciation, so both got homemade brownies this Christmas.

Sunday was the worst day – the weather was miserable: rainy, misty, depressing gray clouds rolling in and changing into dark gray clouds. I knew I couldn’t ride Buckshot but I hoped to do some groundwork with him. However, when I got my gear (my bucket filled with a few brushes, the tiny plastic cones I use in the pasture, and my dressage whip) and walked to his pasture, the dark gray clouds looked like the skies would pour cats and dogs any minute, and I lost my motivation. Buckshot and his pasturemate, Lucky, were resting together in a stall in their run-in barn, looking cozy and comfortable, and I just couldn’t bear to drag him out just to do some of our exercises. I turned around and headed back to the main barn. To kill time, I cleaned some tack, picked out the stalls and swept the main aisles.

Later, before feeding time, I went back to his pasture and found him standing out in the drizzle, eating hay. To get to him, I had to wade through the thick, sticky mud and that required my new anti-quicksand, mud dance thing (LOL!) where I step into thick mud, twist my foot, pull it out, and repeat, with my arms dancing rapidly around my sides to keep my balance (oh, what a picture that is! LOL!) but it was worth it. He’s a sweet horse and to me, as precious as gold. So I love to be with him. And it being Sunday, which is right before Monday – a work day - I was sad that I had to go back to work and wouldn’t see him again for several days.

So, the weekend was filled with yucky weather, killer mud, relentless rain, and gloomy clouds. But I got to see and spend time with Buckshot, and we even got to ride once, so it was a good weekend! Hope you had a good start to your new year also!