Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Easter Weekend

This past weekend I spent Friday and Saturday with Buckshot, since I had family plans for Sunday.

On Saturday we had the most wonderful ride. Sometimes riding him is almost ethereal, it feels so perfect and harmonious. Saturday was one of those days. (The day before, we had found an injury on one of his front legs (a wound/ scratch where he had punctured the skin on the inside top of his right front leg, inside of the elbow), and we were giving him an antibiotic and watching it-when we touched it, he didn’t show any pain about it. And he had his vaccines, which included tetanus, just a few months ago.)

So I rode him, and he was in rare, energetic, I might even say, happy form. After our walking warm up, I asked him for a trot and he gave such a lovely, powerful trot- it felt wonderful! I felt in balance on him, and he felt perfectly balanced and eager under me – one of those rare combinations where riding is such a joy! Even the PO noticed his good energy, which while powerful, was not out of control. He was very responsive to my aids, and responded with vigor! We had two rider/students who had trailered their horses in, and hadn’t ridden much all winter, so I expected the unexpected. We did some walking, and patterns, without incident. While the new horses stood in the center, Caren and I cantered our horses. Buckshot was a dream! Strong, powerful cantering, which I sat well, and stayed balanced in the turns and hummed to him when I wanted him to come down to the trot. Wonderful! After an hour and a half of riding, I dismounted, praised him and took him to untack, and give him a rinse of his sweaty spots.

The previous day, Friday, was filled with light rain most of the day, so I didn’t ride him. Instead, we did some groundwork exercises in his pasture. And I carefully washed and cleaned his leg wound, and a scratch he had on his forehead. We gave him an antibiotic by mouth, which means I also wore a lot of it! We also checked his weight using the weight string, and he hadn’t lost any weight, rather had gained a tiny bit. Good. Overall a very nice time with my sweet, precious horse. Despite his quirks, I couldn’t ask for a better horse! Good Buckshot!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Storms in Virginia

Two words come to my mind about this past weekend: magic and relief. There was a moment of magic, and a moment of great relief. First, the magical moment. On Saturday, the weather was pre-storm iffy – cloudy and spitting rain in the morning, with the prediction of storms later in the afternoon. At the barn, I helped clean up stalls and then, for a brief moment, saw some lightness in the sky, almost pre-sunlight. So I thought quickly, and decided there might be a brief window of opportunity to ride, so away I went to Buckshot’s pasture.

I got him tacked up and we went out to the arena. No one else was around, since it was supposed to be a rainy day, and we had the arena, newly groomed all to ourselves. And the footing was wonderful and perfect! We started our walking warm up and I came up with new patterns and exercises so that the twenty minutes melted away. I had time to think about my posture, and my aids. When we started trotting, Buckshot was eager and energetic- it was wonderful! And when, a few minutes later, I decided to canter, we had one perfect canter! I focused on giving with the reins, and my seat stayed nicely in contact with the saddle, and when we came to the end of the arena, to turn, I clearly thought about staying straight up in the saddle, not bending over, so that he would feel my balance and continue to canter through the turn, and he did! And at the other end of the arena, when I wanted to bring him down from the canter, I hummed and he came down to the trot! It was the most perfect canter ever! Buckshot was super!

After a few more minutes we were joined in the arena by the BO on a very young horse, so we walked and did a little more trotting. Then I asked the BO if I could canter (so she could stop her horse in the center and he wouldn’t be surprised by us) and we did. This one was not a perfect canter, but it was good. Once you’ve had the perfect canter, you compare them all to that one, I guess! LOL! Then we heard the BOH start using a chain saw so we decided if a tree was going to come down, we didn’t want the horses to be surprised by it, so we dismounted. After much praise and treats, I took my perfect cantering horse back to his pasture! Good boy!

That night, really bad storms and tornadoes hit Virginia. One tornado came down in the county that the farm is in. I chewed my fingernails, and worried. I didn’t call the farm to check on them since I figured they were quite busy taking care of everything and all the animals. When I drove to the barn on Sunday morning, it was with trepidation. However, I didn’t see any debris in the roads or the yards as I traveled. Even driving up the driveway of the farm, I saw only the most minor debris on the ground. Then I rounded the turn and started to drive by the pastures. All the horses looked fine! No trees were down! Off in the distance I could see Buckshot in his pasture, eating hay! The farm had gotten a lot of rain and wind but only a small bit of damage. What relief!! Wonderful, wonderful!

And Sunday’s weather was picture perfect- sunny, blue skies, and pleasantly cool. However, the arenas were pretty soggy and water-logged. Despite that, a small group of us rode in the arena avoiding the large puddles. We only trotted after our walking, since there wasn’t enough room or solid footing to canter. We then went on the trail through the woods, and they were beautiful. Full of sunshine lighting up masses of tiny green gems on the trees, with soft footing underneath- it was a lovely cathedral of mother nature’s beauty for horses and riders to enjoy and savor. Buckshot seemed a little tired when we went uphill, but I think Saturday night was hard for him and the other horses to rest much with the storms. And overall, he did great – a lovely ride.

I hope you were not affected by the string of storms last weekend and that you had a good time with your precious horses!

Monday, April 11, 2011

April Weekend

Buckshot was, fortunately, much better on Monday, after his slight bout of tummy ache/ gas colic/ unidentified slight ailment. On Monday, the BO reported that he was fine and his appetite was fine. I was very glad to hear it! On Wednesday night, I went out to the barn and found him happily eating hay in his pasture. We did our groundwork without halter and lead line again. He was very responsive except he didn’t want to go too far away from his stall/barn. So we did our games and exercises in the area he was comfortable in. I also brushed him and loosened some of his shedding winter hair. It was a lovely, calm evening to spend some time with him.

On Saturday the weather was very nice – pleasantly cool and sunny- but the arenas were both soggy from rains. After I got Buckshot tacked up, we couldn’t use the main arena because there was a class going on in it. So we went to the round pen and began our walking warm up there. I try to make the round pen interesting to him. I usually walk him around, in hand, in both directions to test out the footing. Then I mount and begin walking him. I told him we would work on our precision work. I can now keep him on the outside rail with a good technique I learned from the reining trainer: When going to the right, if Buckshot is walking inside a bit too much, I lift the inside rein a few inches and tap my inside heel way behind the girth. He moves over to the left, to the rail. We continue in our leftward circle. This is a good technique that works well for us.

To prevent boredom, I walked him around in quarters, e.g., at at the 12 o’clock spot, I turn in and go to the center of the pen, at which point I turn right and go out to the rail, to the 9 o’clock spot. Then around for another quarter and then into the center. You get the idea.

Another exercise we do is “squares” where I mentally turn the round pen into a square pen. I will walk Buckshot from one fence post to another (one side of the square), not on the rail, say whoa, back two or three strides, whoa, walk forward those same two or three strides, and then turn. Off we go to another post, or another side of the square. We continued these varying exercises for about ten minutes, and then I dismounted, left the round pen and walked him over to the main arena.

The arena was very wet around most of the edges so we had to keep to the inside portion of the arena. We did a little trotting but not a lot since I felt the footing was a bit slippery. We didn’t do any cantering. My sister joined us with her school horse and we stood in the center of the arena chatting, and noting how both horses slowly closed their eyelids, snoozing! Then the BO and BOH joined us with their horses and after a few minutes walking in the arena, we went into the woods on the trail.

Oh, the woods were beautiful, filled with the most delicate green buds and flowering trees! It was truly magical to see and pad softly through the enchanted forest. It was quiet and calm, without any distractions or worries – a wonderful trek. We got to the hay arena but quickly realized it was too soft for riding, so we headed into a different section of woods. Then we headed back to the barn and dismounted- a lovely ride. I made a point to notice Buckshot’s ears on the trail, and see what he pays attention to. I noticed that he does look around, and yet often cocks one ear back to me, even if I haven’t spoken. I wonder if he enjoys the trail rides as much as I do, and what he thinks about as we travel through the woods.

On Sunday, we trailered four horses to a reining clinic and had a nice time there. Buckshot did very well, but I didn’t push him as it was warm (in the seventies) and he still has quite a bit of winter coat. But he did very well; he didn’t get antsy in the stall before loading, he loaded well, traveled well, and seemed to have a good time at the clinic. After I got him home and back to his pasture, he went and rolled right away (which is what he usually does after getting off the trailer when he gets home), then went to his water tub and drank deeply, then turned to me as if to say, Well! I feel good! What now? Good boy!

Just a side note…. I am watching Buckshot’s weight now. A week ago, I asked the BO to tighten my cinch one day under saddle, and as she took it in beyond the holes, I noted that that seemed like maybe he had lost weight. Later, we measured him using a hay bale string, which we marked and have stored on a shelf in the barn. We also decided to increase his feed by a small amount, I’d say less than 10 percent more. I’ll check him with the string in a few days and see how it looks. We may decide to put him on a higher calorie feed.

Also, since we had used all of the holes in the cinch, I decided to put more holes in it. The BO has a wonderfully easy hole punch that made the job a snap. Then, during this weekend, while riding, I bent forward and tucked my hand into the cinch to see if it felt loose. (By way of background, I always tighten the cinch before mounting, and check it a few minutes later, and most of the time, have to hop off and tighten it again.) So, when I did my normal checking from in the saddle, it was a little loose. This time I was able, with the help of the holes, to tighten it while staying in the saddle! I like this maneuver. In the past, when I rode with English tack, I really liked that you can tighten your girth from in the saddle. So moving to Western tack, the cinch is different from the English girth and can't usually be tightened by a rider in the saddle. But this weekend, I figured out how to do it, although it was a little trickier than an English girth.

Although my weekend wasn’t too exciting, I hope you had a great weekend with your horse friends as well!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Weekend Adventures

Last Wednesday night, after work, I went out to the barn to see Buckshot. After helping feed some of the farm’s horses, I went to Buckshot’s pasture. He was nibbling on some hay, but looked up as I came near. I stroked his neck and chatted with him, gazing out over his pasture. There were a few trees I idly thought I’d look at, so I headed across the pasture. As I walked, Buckshot joined me at my side. Wow, I thought, that’s nice, he wants to go with me. I walked deep into the pasture and Buckshot stayed right at my side. I wonder if he wants to do some of our groundwork exercises, although he doesn’t have his halter or lead line on. So I tried one of our exercises and he did it great! We did another one and he did it exactly as if he had a lead line on! I kept going, amazed at him! I wondered if he thought he had a lead line on, so close and exact were his responses to me. I didn’t have treats with me, so I gave him hugs after each exercise. When I left, I was awed by him- I had never seen him respond so perfectly to my cues without halter and lead line! I praised him and told him what a smart and wonderful horse he is! And I smiled all the way home at these memories of him.

On Saturday, the weathermen got even with me. The previous weekend I thought I had cheated them out of their mean forecasts by having a great time with Buckshot, despite rainy, gloomy and uncertain weather forecasts. But this Saturday, they got even. The forecast wasn’t alarming: high 50’s, partly cloudy, windy, slight chance of rain. By the time Buckshot was tacked up and we were in the arena doing our walking, there were a lot of, well, interesting looking clouds, and some wind, but not too bad. Buckshot isn’t usually bothered by windy conditions so I felt confident continuing our ride. A few other students came out into the arena and we began our lesson. It went well and despite the growing windiness, all of the horses stayed calm.

We walked down the farm road to the hay arena, opting to stay out of the woods in case of branches coming down. While at the hay arena, the wind picked up to gale force, we could hear and see metal awnings and roof parts clattering on nearby houses, and when we looked up, large, dark clouds were moving quickly toward us. Riding in the arena suddenly seemed dangerous; we immediately headed back down the road to the barn. As we walked down the road, the wind gusted to what felt like tornado or gale force winds; I sat back in the saddle and deliberately breathed out to keep my nerves in control. Buckshot wasn’t bothered; in fact, none of the horses spooked at all. But us humans were another story – we were worried! But we calmly walked our horses down the road, got to the barn and dismounted, letting out sighs of relief. Very scary wind and clouds out there! But all horses and humans were safe. A good ride, but not a fun one.

By Sunday the wind had subsided, the sun was out and it was a little warmer. When I went to Buckshot’s pasture, he was still eating his morning hay, so after hugging him and talking to him, I did the little chores I do at his pasture. I got him another salt block for his stall (one hung on the wall of the adjacent stall); I emptied and cleaned their water tub, I picked up poop from their stalls and the section near their stalls/water.

Then I led Buckshot over to the main barn and got ready to ride. During our walking, he was a bit resistant to move forward; I had to encourage him more than normal. But after our twenty minutes, he was ready to trot, so we did some trotting patterns. A few other riders came out and we rode in the arena , and then headed onto the trail Buckshot was a little stumbly on the trail, perhaps because his feet had been trimmed a little too closely in the previous week. When we went up two inclines, I heard him exhale as if, perhaps, to say, whew, glad that hill is over. At the hay arena, we worked for a short while and he did two very good canters and several trotting exercises. He seemed to be heaving a little so I asked the BO if he was exhaling strongly through his nostrils. She said he was, a little. I decided to stick with walking from that point on.

We walked back to the barn after a bit and I dismounted. Buckshot didn’t want to move right away, so I gave him a treat from my pocket and stood by him, telling him what good work he had done. After a few minutes, we went into the barn. My usual procedure is to take off his bridle, rinse the bit in the water bucket, take off the saddle and pad, brush him briefly and then give him some carrots. He might turn to the hay or drink some water during this time.

Surprisingly, after taking off his bit, he kicked the wall with his front foot, and started circling in a pre-roll maneuver. Surprised, I pulled his saddle off, put his halter and lead line on and immediately took him back to the arena, to let him roll on the dirt (and not in the enclosed area of the stall). He didn’t roll there, but did whinny once. I was perplexed by his behaviors. I took him back to the stall and brushed him quickly on the girth area, and he again circled the stall, bending his legs slightly as if to roll. I stuck his carrots in my pocket and decided to get him over to his pasture, which is where he usually rolls.

So we walked over to his pasture. He wasn’t interested in any grass on the way (unusual for him). When at this pasture, he immediately rolled. Then he stood up and I took his carrots over to him- he didn’t want any! He circled around and laid down. I was worried by this point – not wanting carrots is unheard of, and laying down is unusual. I stood there and watched him, he didn’t seem to be in distress, he wasn’t pawing at his stomache or at anything. After a few minutes, I went to find the BO and tell her as I was worried about him. I told her I had seen him poop twice that very day, good fairly solid poops. She came up to his pasture and seeing that he looked alert, and not in distress, but laying down, with head up, we thought he had a stomache ache perhaps. She went to get a dose of Banamine and when she got back he was laying down all the way. We got a halter on him, and he lifted his head up into that upright position, and we gave him the Banamine. He took most of it; he only spit out a little of it. We thought we’d watch him.

I busied myself and in a few minutes, he was standing, which made me feel good. I talked to him and told him I was so sorry he felt poorly, and I hoped he felt better soon, with the medicine. Not wanting to watch over him like a hawk, I headed back to the barn to do a chore, and I saw him slowly head out into his pasture with Lucky. When I came back within the hour, to start feeding, he was out in the pasture, laying down, in that head-upright position. I walked out to him and talked to him; again, he looked interested and alert, no pawing, or rolling, just laying down. I sat down by his head for a few minutes, but not wanting to hover over him, I then got up and headed into their barn feed room to make dinner for the seven horses in the area.

As I brought out Lucky and Buckshot’s feed, Lucky bounded into his stall with normal enthusiasm. I gave him his dinner, and then walked out to Buckshot, who was still laying down. I showed him his dinner and he started to eat some from the scoop. I pulled it away and he immediately stood and came with me to his stall and ate his dinner, as normal. He then ate his after dinner hay as normal also. I was really glad to see Buckshot do both of these things! I hugged him and told him I had to go on and feed more of the horses. When I left the barn he was still eating his hay.

I have been in the parenting-limbo of “he’s probably alright today, the BO hasn’t called me with any bad news, but still in the back of my mind, I do worry about him." Since I’ve never had any children, I haven’t gone through the parenting-worry-syndrome except with Buckshot. It is an emotional experience, on the one hand, I can’t help worrying – did I give him some bad hay? Did increasing his feed a tiny bit the day before cause a problem? Did moving his salt block make him not get enough salt? Did I work him too hard on a hot day? Did I work him too hard for his age? Will he be alright? It’s so darn hard to tell what is happening since he can’t talk and say, this really hurts. Or this just hurts a little bit.

On the other hand, I want to be cool and calm, and responsible without being a worry wart. So he’ll probably be fine. Things like this happen; he can just have a stomache ache for an unknown reason. Reading his condition from his behaviors is fine; it’s what all horse owners do. His not feeling good is probably not anyone’s fault. Just get on with life and work and chores and keep an eye on him, as the BO will. But, still, I really can appreciate what parents must go through with their children, when they get sick. It is a tough, emotional roller-coaster, that comes from loving the little things so much, and wanting them to be healthy, and knowing how many things in life are not totally in our control, not even with our loved ones. I know you have probably experienced this as well. Thanks for listening!