Monday, March 28, 2011

Gloomy Weather, Good Horse

The weekend weather was predicted to be cold and rainy, Saturday and Sunday. Oh, yuck. But hard to complain too much when we have had some very nice spring days already. So I wouldn’t complain. I’d just try to have the best time possible with Buckshot, despite the weather. By the arrival of the weekend, the obviously-horse-loving weathermen had changed their prediction: Rain to start late Saturday, lows in the thirties. A dry day, but cold. Brrr.

At the barn on Saturday, it was as predicted - gray, gloomy and cold, but not rainy. Oh, goody. We can ride today. I got Buckshot groomed, and created a huge pile of mostly-white hairs in the stall. I carefully lay them to the side to throw them out later, wanting to leave the stall as clean as possible. Buckshot munched non-stop on the special alfalfa hay I had put in the stall. I’m pretty sure he was saying “Hmmm, yumm…yumm” but I can’t be sure. When I began picking his feet, he decided to lift his head, poke his head out the stall door to hear the conversations in the aisle, meander around the stall, and step, just once, very squarely on my foot with his hoof. Ouch! I eventually got all hooves cleaned, got him tacked up, and we went out to the arena.

We didn’t have time to work on the gate opening work, so we got started walking our warm up. Twenty minutes. He had pretty good energy. I started chatting, telling him about a new horse on the farm, what his name was, where he came from, what his age was, and so on and so on, and all of a sudden, Buckshot whinnied loudly. Goodness, I think he just said, enough of the incessant chit chat. So I said well I guess I am talking too much, and maybe you don’t want to hear all of this, oh yes, I’ll just, forget it, and we silently continued (inside I was laughing!)! But maybe he is in a bit of a grumpy mood. Oh, well. We continued and then after twenty minutes, moved to trotting. He had good energy.

Then it was time for the class to start. The only other rider was my sister. She brought her school horse in the arena and we began walking around the arena. We rode some patterns at the trot and did some nice cantering. Then we did a trail ride, with the new horse walked by the BO. A nice day, except the barn cats (I think) ate through two of my plastic bags! One had a new fly mask in it – they didn’t damage it. The other bag held the last third of a roll of paper towels. The roll had a big, quarter sized hole in it! I didn’t think cats liked to eat paper towels! I’ve got to think of how to hang my bags next time so they don’t become food!

On Sunday, the horse-loving weathermen changed their forecasts again! Rain and snow in the morning, moving out of the area by mid-day. So Buckshot and I did groundwork in his pasture instead of riding. He was very enthusiastic about each of the exercises and tried his best. The one we are having trouble with is the sidepass. When I press my hands on his side, and say “side right” he moves forward and around me, doing a very nice small circle. So fluid and smooth. I hate to say “No, that’s not it” when he did try to do something, and it looked very nice, so I gave him his treat anyway. Another new exercise is backing in a straight line, which he does well. Then I follow that with backing and turning a few steps. This is harder, but he got it pretty well in one direction. Overall, I was very pleased with the groundwork.

I then took him out to graze and just wander around the grassy areas, not taking a particular route. He enjoyed being able to eat grass to his heart’s content. It was a nice time. So, there, you weathermen! We can have a great time with our horses despite what you throw at us! I felt like I had cheated them out of their bad weather! Ha ha! Horses are worth it!

Hope you had a good weekend with your horses also!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Good Rides and Blog Book Created!

Last weekend I had a great time with Buckshot. We had nice weather and the footing was good all around. On Saturday as we did our phase one walking in the arena, Buckshot was very low energy. He preferred the gait of “whoa.” LOL! The previous day had been uncharacteristically hot here, reaching 80 degrees, so I think the horses were sapped of some of their normal energy. After our walking, he had good energy at the trot, but not for very long. We also did a few good canters, where he was very energetic. I was so proud of him during the following trail ride. He is such a good trail horse!

Three times as our class went through the woods, he and I took the lead when the lead horse wouldn’t go forward. Once was at a small bridge, once was when we were exiting the woods into the hay field, and once was at a hunting blind. I don’t know if he has even seen a hunting blind before. As our group approached it, we riders could see the blind, and a piece of cloth hanging from it blowing in the wind. We all stopped and the BO assessed the situation before we got too close to it. There were electric guy wires nearby that a horse could spook into if they spooked at the blind and blowing cloth. I offered to take the lead and Buckshot walked right by it without a care. He is such a wonderful horse! He has other times that he gets nervous, but on the trail, with whatever comes up, he just takes it in stride and is fine with it, and is fine with being asked to lead through it as well. Good, good boy!

On Sunday we loaded several horses and went to the reining trainer’s farm for a clinic. I have improved my ability to tie him to the trailer and tack him up. I still need to get someone’s help with bridling him. And I guess he is eager to get started because as we walk toward the mounting block, I need to tighten his cinch, and it is hard to get him to stop for this. I have been working on clicker training with this, and at our home farm, he will stop and stand still, let me tighten it, move to his head, make the click noises with my mouth and give him his treat. But at the reining farm, he will only stand still for a moment and then he is moving forward. I’ll continue to work with him on this.

After our phase one walking, the clinic started with each of us doing a full reining pattern (pattern 8 if you are interested). It involves, ideally, spins, loping big and small circles, loping down the long sides of the arena, and roll backs. The trainer lets Buckshot and I do small circles instead of actual spins, and he lets us trot if needed in deference to Buckshot’s age and not being an actual reining horse. But what fun we had doing the pattern! His cantering and trotting were great, and energetic! About halfway through the pattern, I could feel the exertion of the work (mental note to myself to do more of my exercises! LOL) but I was so proud of both of us that we did a good job at it! We even got several compliments! That means a lot because we are probably the oldest horse and oldest rider there. I gave him great praise and lots of treats, and when we got back home, took him back to his pasture so he could immediately roll! What a great horse- I so appreciate him, that he is willing to do such a variety of things with me. Although he isn’t perfect, he is (I think) quite an amazing horse!

We also are continuing our gate work; more on that as we go along. The gate I want us to open is quite a large, long metal gate in the main arena. I am working through how we will do it in my mind, and on the ground, and I am working with him, very slowly, on how to halfpass.

Also, on another topic, last week I decided to have my blog printed into a book. I have seen the ads for this service and I decided to go ahead and do it. I want to have a hard copy to read and refer to, and the price seemed reasonable. I used the website service, and it was fairly easy to do. My blog- from July to the present- ended up being approximately 90 pages, so it cost me approximately $40 to print it. I just received it today and it is very high quality and nice. I am very pleased with it. I think I’ll print my blog occasionally so that I can read it, and remember past events and accomplishments, at my leisure.

Hope you had a good weekend and that spring is arriving at your barn!

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Shedding Begins!

This past weekend was unremarkable. The weather was nice – in the sixties with some sunshine and slight winds. I had a good time with Buckshot both Saturday and Sunday. But grooming him – wow! He has started shedding and when he sheds, he sheds big time! For some unknown reason, as I curried combed him vigorously, his hairs would jump onto me, especially onto my face! LOL! I know that seems crazy; surely that didn’t happen. The horse hairs just jump around a bit but they don’t jump anywhere. I know; I agree. But I swear this time they jumped over to me! I tried grooming with my mouth closed to minimize those that jumped into my mouth! The hair would cling to my hands as well, and I would reach down and try to fling it onto the stall floor. A lot of hair jumped to my clothes and stuck to my shirt. I have learned that fleece attracts horse hair like crazy so I rarely wear it as the outside layer. But this weekend horse hair seemed to cling to my clothes regardless of the fabric! And, oh, how I love the shedding blade! That one tool makes the job much easier. Bless whoever invented it!
On Sunday I offered to groom one of the school horses and she, a dear Arab mare that I rode for a long time when I was first learning to ride, was also shedding. Just a few circles with the curry comb and it was filled up! I could remove the circle of matted hair and place it out of the way on the stall floor. That makes for a little easier grooming.

I also groomed Lucky, the horse that is Buckshot’s pasturemate. After our Sunday ride, I took Buckshot back to his pasture. After taking his halter and lead line off, Lucky was standing near us, right by the gate and the watertrough. I think he wanted to hear all about Buckshot’s afternoon. I scratched his forehead and lots of hairs came free. He doesn’t have an individual owner; rather, he is one of the farm’s horses so doesn’t get groomed too often. I could see his shedding hairs sitting on his back. So I decided to give him a little grooming. I started with the curry comb on his neck and chest and he lifted his head high, and his lower lip quivered! Oh, it felt soooo good!

Buckshot stood right next to us; perhaps he was afraid he would miss something LOL! For twenty minutes I rubbed and used the shedding blade and brushed, and dear Lucky didn’t move a muscle. He seemed to be in heaven. At one point Buckshot pushed his head over my shoulder in as close to a horse hug as he has ever given me (oh, thank you Buckshot!). I scratched his forehead and explained that he gets groomed every weekend but poor Lucky doesn’t , so I want to brush him a bit, too. I hope he understood. By the end of the day, I was sore, and I realized later it was because of all the grooming. But it was worth it. I hope it makes the horses feel better to have some of the itchy hairs brushed off. And several of us at the barn were laughing at how much horse hair we were wearing!

One other thing to note is that I’m trying an unconventional method of teaching Buckshot the halfpass. This is when the horse moves to the side, using both front and hind legs, without moving forward or backward. It is one of the techniques needed for gate opening skills. I am going to try to teach it so it can be cued with words, rather than just with my legs and hands. My thinking is that the leg aids are quite similar to other leg aids I give him to move his hindquarters. I don’t want to confuse him with what I am asking, so I want to add two words that will always mean sidepass. My words will be “side right” or “side left.” (I guess I am going to teach him his left from his right! LOL) I want to begin with this on the ground.

So after giving it a lot of thought, I started this on Sunday. In Buckshot’s pasture, we began. I stood in front of him and told him we had a new skill to learn and that since he is very smart, I am sure he will learn it. Then I moved to his left side and touched both his shoulders and back of his barrel with my hands, and said “side right, side right, side right” pushing just a bit harder each time. He didn’t move. I stopped, paused, and did it again. He moved to the side with his hind legs. I stepped up to him and tried again. The only words I said were “side right(pause), side right (pause), side right” as I pushed, not very hard. I wanted him to feel my hands and their placement; I wasn’t really trying to push him to the side. Again, he moved, his hind legs. I thanked him, and told him I appreciated it that he tried, and he did do something, so I gave him his thank you treat. Then I moved to his other side, and did it again, saying “side left (pause), side left (pause), side left.” This time he gave me a messy, sloppy movement to the side and slightly forward, but it was a better response. I did it again and got an even messier movement, but he had tried, so I thanked him and gave him a treat.

It will take a while, but I am going to try to get these few, simple words associated with a side pass. I hope that when we do it while riding, he will know what I am asking for regardless of my leg aids. So we have begun. It may be slow going. (But wouldn’t it be fun if I could say, “side pass right five feet” and he’d move to the right five feet away! LOL) I’ll keep you posted.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Groundwork and Riding

On Saturday Buckshot and I had a good ride at the barn. The weather was cloudy and slightly warm, a perfect pre-spring day. We worked on our gate opening project, which is coming along very slowly, but coming along. Buckshot is curious what these funny little exercises are that we are doing at the gate. But he is trying his best to get them right. After that, we rode, first our phase one walking for twenty minutes. Then when we started trotting, he was ready to go! He trotted very energetically. After a bit, a student in the class came out with her horse and Buckshot was so happy to see another horse in the arena. Then a few more students and horses came out, including my sister on her school horse. We trotted and cantered nicely and then went on a trail ride. When we got to the field arena, we did some work there. Buckshot again trotted with great energy and enthusiasm. We cantered a few times as well. Then we headed back to the barn. In all, Buckshot and I rode for two hours. He did great!

Sunday was a rainy day. I drove to the barn in the rain. Once at the farm, I used the time to clean out my tack trunk, all the way to the bottom! I’ve become friends with one of the barn cats that owns this particular barn, and he helped me with the cleaning, by supervising as much as he possibly could! You probably know what I mean – rubbing my legs, and sniffing everything and getting in the way as much as possible! LOL! But encouraging me all the same! I threw out some old and unusable items, and wiped down everything. I even brought some brushes home to wash. I’m bad about keeping my grooming tools in tip-top condition. So I am determined to wash these brushes, take them back and exchange them for some others, and eventually get them all cleaned. I hope to get them washed really well maybe once a year. (That’s about as likely as my vacuuming goals, which are “whenever!” LOL!)

After cleaning my tack trunk, the rain had stopped so I went up to Buckshot’s pasture with some cones and a dressage whip and we did groundwork exercises in his pasture. He did very well; he was attentive, and tried hard with each exercise. Finally, however, he seemed to lose interest (he started eating grass instead of listening to me). Since he had done quite a few exercises by then, I thought it was fair to bring our work to an end. I worked on picking up poop in his yard and some in the grass. He went into his barn/run in, and had a chat or a nap with his pasturemate.

Then today, Monday, I took off of work to go out to the barn for a vet call. It was time for Buckshot’s annual vaccinations and fecal count and I wanted to be there. We had several horses for the vet to see. Buckshot did great- he didn’t even flinch at the shots! She listened to his heart and said it sounded fine, and strong. And he had kindly deposited some poop just minutes before she arrived so getting a sample was easy. I watched another horse get his teeth floated. And the other horses were looked at as well.

Later, I went back to Buckshot’s pasture and we had another good groundwork session. He tried really hard to do what I asked. In trying to do a half pass, he moved his feet, he tried, but I could almost hear his frustration “But I don’t know what you are asking for!” I told him it was one of the harder things to do, and I understood his frustration, but I appreciated it that he was trying so very hard to get it, or get something right. So I gave him the thank-you treat.

He is also so funny at times. When he thinks he has gotten an exercise right, or that he has done it enough, he will nicker, as if to say, I’ve done it! I’ve done it! Now do I get the treat! I love his young-horse innocence and enthusiasm! And the best, the very best moments I have with Buckshot are not when I am riding him, but are the times in his pasture when I am walking and he is right there by my arm, with his head low, relaxed and trusting and wanting to be with me. Those are the big heart-warming, heart-swelling moments for me, when I love and appreciate him so very much! Thank you, dear Buckshot!