Monday, October 31, 2011

October Fun: Crazy Weather!

The reason I was so excited and exuberant about last weekend’s weather is because in autumn our weather in Virginia is so changeable and unpredictable. Take last Saturday (October 29, 2011) for instance. It was as cold as winter, and rainy and gloomy. The temperatures only made it into the 50’s, which, with lots of rain, made it feel even colder. When I got to the barn I could see the flooded arenas through the steady drizzle. I could also see Buckshot, way off in a distant pasture, wearing his blue-gray blanket. In October! This is very unusual. Typically we wait until winter arrives (isn’t it supposed to arrive sometime in December??) before we have thoughts of blanketing a horse. But c’est la vie.

Shortly after arriving, I walked out to Buckshot’s pasture to say hi to him and to take off the blanket. Down at the main barn the stalls were full of horses, and I mucked out a few stalls before deciding to fix up a stall for Buckshot with some goodies, and bring him to the barn to groom and brush him. He enjoyed his flake of alfalfa and the attention my sister and I gave him with brushes, curry combs, and conditioner.

She chided me about not using conditioner on his mane and tail regularly, and went to work on him. I laughed because he is a he, and I haven’t indulged him with too much girlie attention such as a lot of conditioner. I think he is more a dignified gentleman horse, a horse used to hard work at the race track, and not one given to feminine excesses. So I have tried to treat him with dignity, and even refrain from calling him “sweetie” when other horses are around, changing it to “Buckshot” quickly lest I am getting too mushy for him. It is funny how I extract and observe his personality and character from time spent with him, and think of him in a masculine mode. (Other times, when he is uncertain of something, I perceive his turning to me for leadership, in a child-like sort of way. So I have observed, I think, various aspects of his personality, along a range of mostly masculine traits. And in keeping with that, I have tried to refrain from being too mushy with him.) However, sometimes, I just have to wrap my arms around his neck and squeeze and tell him how wonderful he is- I can’t help it. I just can’t hold in all of my warm, adoring feelings for him. Sometimes they just slip out and I call him “sweetie” because he is also a very sweet horse. LOL! After his “spa time” in the stall with two “spa workers” he was spiffy and shining and full of alfalfa and I took a happy Buckshot back to his pasture.

Sunday was the reward for enduring the cold, rainy, gray Saturday. On Sunday, the sky was a brilliant cloudless blue, and the temperatures were an autumnal cool fifties. The farm was quiet and lovely. I tacked Buckshot up and rode with the BO and her husband. The main arena was soupy so we avoided it, opting immediately for the wooded trails. And it was beautiful in the woods! The trails had all been groomed, cleared, widened, with new trails carved out in various areas, the result of several worker’s hard labors in the woods. We walked through enjoying the dappled sunlight and delicious autumn air, noting the splotches of color throughout the canopied trees. Buckshot was calm and quiet, responding to my feathering fingers to slow down ever so slightly when we got too close to the horse in front of us. I petted his neck and told him “good boy” several times, just because he was.

When we exited the woods onto the hay field, the blue sky and green-gray field greeted us. We floated down to the hay field’s reining arena, and found it to be somewhat soft, but not too bad. I walked Buckshot around the perimeter, asked alternately for an extended walk and a collected walk. Then I trotted him a bit, adding in some cone-bending (the cones are imaginary) movements. I didn’t ask for the canter because the footing was just too dicey for me. After a few minutes in the arena, we moved on to another set of trails. This set was picturesque as well, with very tall, artfully arranged trees forming almost geometric shapes overhead. The wind of recent storms has caused some trees to dip and curve in awesome shapes.

Several sections of the trail were very bogged down with standing water. Buckshot, bless his heart, doesn’t have any problem walking through water. But some of these pools were very deep, and try as I might to stay calm (and not think about him accidently going down, and flayed limbs, and injuries to him), I still did the unconscious-rider-fear stuff of bending forward, stop breathing, encouraging Buckshot, praying, knowing I should sit bacccckkkk but unconsciously unable to do so, until we were back on dry land. And then I reflected on it- the rider’s-well, my- innate inability to do what is needed for the horse in dicey situations, even though I know it. This, along with “heels down” will be what I am still working on when I die, someday an old lady, in the saddle, thinking, I just need to work on this a bit more. LOL!

We continued along on still more trails and came to a steep downhill section. I ask Buckshot to go easy on a downhill, and he does and we got to the bottom just fine. And we headed back to the main barn. I checked my watch and saw that we’d been riding only for an hour and instantly started plotting a longer ride. We couldn’t ride in the arena- too soupy- but maybe I could take him back out on the trail again. But, I thought as I plotted and argued with myself, Buckshot will see the other riders dismount and he will want me to dismount also. He has a strong sense of the herd, what others do, I should do also. Especially dismount. But it was such a pretty day, and so nice, and we had only ridden for an hour and I didn’t want to stop. So when the others dismounted I asked the BO, “wouldn’t you like to ride some more?” But they declined- other chores called for them- so I dismounted also. It was a wonderful ride so I couldn’t feel anything but good about it. I told Buckshot he did great work and took him into the barn to untack and give him his treats.

As I walked Buckshot back to his pasture, I got another idea. The day was still young, so I thought we’d do some groundwork in his pasture. I left him at the pasture, telling him he’d get a fifteen minute break and then we’d do some more work. I’m sure he didn’t know what I was talking about, as he headed straight into a stall either to tell Lucky about his work, or to have a nap. I went back and gathered my groundwork gear: some pink cones, and some children’s beach toys in bright colors that I use with Buckshot, more treats, water and a granola bar snack for me. I went back to Buckshot’s pasture and found him trying to nap, but curious about all my gear. He watched me head out into the grass, and then I noticed he dove into the stall again, possibly hoping I wouldn’t see him and would make some other horse do the work. LOL!

I set up the cones in an L-shape, and hid or somewhat hid, the other toys in brush and tree limbs. Then I went and got him and after coaxing him to come out into the grass (he wasn’t too enthusiastic at first), we started. We did an exercise at the cones, then he got a treat, then we went to find one of the toys (sort of a hide and seek game). When he found the toy and touched it with his nose, I said “bingo!” and gave him a treat. Then we did another exercise, such as circles, followed by another hide and seek game. After a series of these, we collected the cones and toys, I praised him and left him to really have a nap.

I love to do our groundwork, not because it produces any great accomplishments, but because it gives me time with Buckshot to ask something of him (that he can do), and then praise him and prove how good he was with a treat. It helps him stay responsive to me, attentive to me, and helps him to feel good about himself. It gives me time to be with him and talk to him, and tell him what a good horse he is. Sometimes I think I should challenge him more, other times I know this groundwork is fine for what it is- a personal time of handling, and easy maneuvers, and building our relationship. I think it makes me better as a rider. It may be easy stuff, but it is purposeful. And I think it is valuable time, for our relationship, for our riding, and for building a bit of trust in me that may be necessary if we are ever in a tight spot and I need Buckshot right at that moment to trust me with something serious or scary to him. Plus the groundwork tells him that he is valuable to me, which may sound corny, but I think intuitively is a good and positive thing for him to know.

I hope you had some beautiful weather this weekend as well. I am sorry for the untimely snow that the northeast got this weekend- I hope it melts quickly for you!

Monday, October 24, 2011

More Photos and Lovely Rides!

Finally I have some photos of Buckshot and I! I am so excited- another boarder was at the farm this past weekend (October 22-23, 2011) and I asked her to take some pictures of Buckshot and I in his pasture! I am so glad to have some pictures of me with my best horse in the world, where you can see my smiles of being around my sweet Buckshot. I told him several times that these were photos for my blog, for his blog really, and that he was a famous horse now that he has his own blog. But, in true horse character, he wasn’t interested at all in being famous or having a blog. LOL!

This weekend we had wonderful weather in Virginia- cool temperatures in the 60’s with lovely sunshine and no rain. It was heavenly! It made up for many of the wickedly hot summer days. I took my father out to the barn on Saturday. He is 84 years old, and retired, who spends several days a week volunteering in a local hospital, and tells me all the comings and goings of hospital life. He asked to come out and see Buckshot and watch us ride, so I have been waiting until the weather wasn’t too extreme to have him visit. He is partially blind, and isn’t really a horse person at all, but I was touched that he wanted to see Buckshot. So I made all of the arrangements, and had extra food and beverages on hand, and drove him out to the farm. The farm was hopping with activity, with three men on the main barn roof installing a new roof. Lots of loud clanging, and big whooshing sounds, and huge pieces of roofing being slid up and down. Despite the noise the horses did very well and didn’t spook at all, which was impressive given the unrelenting noise right next to the arena.

After getting Buckshot from his pasture, and taking him into the barn, I could sense he was energetic. I brushed him and then showed my dad how I swing the heavy 34 pound saddle lightly onto Buckshot’s back. I finished tacking him up and we went out to the arena. Buckshot had good energy right from the start of our ride, perhaps due to the cooler autumn temperatures. After our warm up, which I explained to my dad I had to do first, Buckshot trotted with ease and energy. And then when we cantered, Buckshot was wonderful! Easy and balanced. I did well also at the canter.

At one point, I wanted to trot over to my dad and say excitedly, like a little girl, did you see that? Wasn’t that great? But I caught myself in time! After all, I’m 55 years old, not a little girl at all. How funny. There are times like that, with Buckshot, that bring out some little girl inside of me and make me bubble over with joy, and I want to spontaneously run up to someone and tell them! It’s so funny. When I notice these thoughts, it makes me wonder if I have always had this horse-love, even as a little girl, even though it didn’t blossom and evolve until I was in my forties. I suspect so. Anyway, I caught myself before running up to my dad. I can share it here in my blog, though, and you guys will understand.

We went on to ride in our regular Saturday class, which included a couple of other horses and riders, including my sister on her school horse. Our instructor gave us a pattern to do that included cones, an extended trot and doing a fairly small circle at the canter. Buckshot and I did great – his extended trot was strong and floaty and extremely straight, right on pattern. And we did a canter circle- lovely, not too fast, balanced, perfect. I think it was the most perfect canter I have ever done. I was thrilled that Buckshot did such a good circle. Right at that moment, I thought, that’s it, that was the highlight of my week, everything else can go wrong if need be, this one ride with this dear horse is the best moment of my entire week! And it is true, being with Buckshot is the highlight of my week, every week. I apologize for so much gushing about Buckshot- we had such a great weekend and I am so appreciative of him, and well, this blog is the best place for me to write these things.

My dad’s visit at the farm was a success; he gave me several compliments about Buckshot, which just warmed my heart to no end. And the next day, Sunday, was another lovely day of cool autumn temperatures and sunny, blue skies. Buckshot was again nicely energetic and we had a wonderful ride, doing precision work at the walk, trotting patterns, and some cantering. We went on a trail ride with several other horses. The woods were picture perfect, with sunshine floating down to the green, gold and orange leaves, the horses making only faint crunch sounds underfoot. Just delightful.

Finally, some weather rewards for the many days of extreme heat, and enjoying the horses’ energy as they enjoy the cooler weather as well. I hope you had a good weekend as well!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Lovely Times in Lovely October Weather

This past weekend (Oct. 14-16, 2011) I had three days of great times with Buckshot. I took off work on Friday and went out to the barn. It was a bit windy, but also sunny and mild. We had a good phase 1 walking warm up with Buckshot demonstrating some good energy. Then we did some trotting and cantering, also very nice. I asked the BO to watch me ride so she could observe Buckshot. She said that his gaits looked fine, with plenty of energy and no return of the discomfort Buckshot showed a week ago.

I continue to try and gain experience at the canter. I need a lot of saddle time, but have to temper my wishes with Buckshot’s needs and the conditions of weather and footing. I feel like I am improving, but at a very, very slow pace. I really have to be patient with this, but it is coming.

After our work in the arena, we rode with the BO and her horse down the farm road to the reining arena in the farm’s hay field. The arena itself was too soft to ride in so we instead rode in the hay field, verbally blocking off a section of the field that we would stay within. We rode for a good long time, at a nice working trot, with the breeze in my face, the breeze lifting Buckshot’s mane, the sun warming us both nicely, on a lovely October afternoon. It was a picture perfect ride! I tried a few canters and we did nicely at them. After this heavenly time in the field, with both horses enjoying the ride and behaving perfectly, we walked back down the road to the main arena and dismounted. The windy conditions prevented us from even going into the trail. I praised Buckshot and enjoyed the moments of pride and happiness and joy from such a wonderful horse and ride! What a great horse he is!

On Saturday, the day was much like Friday – sunny, mild, yet still windy. On Saturdays, the barn typically has a lot of riding students and classes. Buckshot and I participate in the 1:30 class, but I like to ride well in advance of the class, so we can do our warm up and work on a few things at the trot and canter.

After I got him tacked up, a class was in the main arena so I took him over to the round pen and mounted. Because the round pen is located next to two pastures, we often have an audience of horses watching us. I kept us at the walk and practiced both going around the pen, and walking across it in various formations to keep it interesting. When the main arena was empty, we walked over to it.

Another boarder asked to use the arena alone for a few minutes so Buckshot and I did some exploratory walking around various barns and grassy areas. He seems to really enjoy expanding his sights, slowly, not too fast, as we walk around. He’ll walk in one direction quite purposefully, and then stop, uncertain of what to do next. So I will immediately take the reins and lead him off in a different direction. In some areas we will trot, others we will stay at the walk.

Eventually, we returned to the arena and did more trotting, and also some cantering. When he has the left lead, he feels balanced and even to me. At the right lead, he feels much more slanted. It is hard to steer him when he has the right lead. I feel like I am pulling on him mouth quite strongly, and I don’t want to do that. I don’t know why the right lead feels so much different. Do you experience that as well? Do you use different aids for differing leads?

The class did some interesting patterns and we had fun. They were hard patterns, involving leading the horse around cones and to special markers, using trotting, cantering, stopping, backing, etc. Especially difficult was the final section- trotting down the long rail, after having done a bit of cantering. It is so hard to reduce the energy of the horse immediately after cantering. The instructor agreed that this part of the pattern was challenging. That is one of the reasons I like taking classes- I am more challenged by the instructor’s patterns and exercises than I would think, and they help me and Buckshot to grow and develop.

And the last day of my three day Buckshot weekend was wonderful – we went to a reining clinic and had a great time! From the moment I stepped into the stirrup and walked Buckshot out into the arena, Buckshot had an unusual energy and purpose. At our home barn, he will drag along at the beginning of our ride, and after some urging from me, will give a good working walk. At the reining clinic, however, he starts off right away with a good energetic walk. It is one of the reasons that I think he really likes going to the clinics. He also had such energy at the trot and canter I couldn’t believe it! He had so much vim and vigor I suspect he had been drinking gallons of V-8! We did great (for us) at the patterns and exercises the trainer had us do.

When the clinic was over, I dismounted, praised Buckshot and took him to some grass to graze. Then I walked him back to the trailer, tied him on the side, and proceeded to make a mess of untacking him. I couldn’t figure out how to get his bridle off, and attach the halter while the halter's lead line stayed tied to the trailer. Before I knew it, the bridle had fallen to the ground in front of Buckshot’s feet, he stepped on it and he had leather straps everywhich way. I internally was alarmed, hoping I could back him safely off of them before he realized it and panicked. As I struggled, he stepped on one of my feet, but I had to ignore it (except for getting him off my foot) until I got the straps and lead line and halter unraveled. Goodness, what a mess I made of it. I finally took the halter off of the trailer totally, and put the lead line around his neck for leverage. Then I got his bridle off, and the halter on. Boy- that is something I need more practice on! Then I got his saddle and pad off and we went off for a little grass. Later, we headed for home and I walked him back to his pasture with lots of praise and appreciation of his work!

I thoroughly enjoyed all three days with Buckshot and spending time with him, in his pasture when I loosened persimmons from the tree for him, or picking up poop, or just talking to him. And then riding him, he was in good form and didn’t have any problems. What a good horse he is! (And some recent photos are at the top, finally, some pictures!)

I want to thank the two bloggers who have recently given my blog the Lovely Blog Award- Arlene from Grey Horse Matters and Carol from Dressage Training Journal (both are fantastic blogs - see my links on the right). What an honor to receive this award. Thank you so much. I am working on doing the award steps – sharing seven things about myself personally and sharing some new blogs as well. Thank you again for your kindness!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Semi-Beautiful Weekend

There are two reasons I am calling this past weekend semi-beautiful. One is the weather. The other is due to Buckshot, my horse. First, the weather. Although it was sunny, with few clouds, and no hurricanes or earthquakes, it was also quite warm, and the horses, including Buckshot, have a bit of their winter coats already. So working the horses very hard is dicey. You feel wonderful, like you’d like to do all kinds of exercise and practice, but the horses aren’t really prepared for work in warm weather; they are ready for cool temperatures. So I had to hold back on working on the canter much. It’s a fine line we walk sometimes, between what we want to do and whether the conditions will enable the horse to do it. So I stayed more in the direction of deferring to the hot weather-but-winter-coat on horse and did less, rather than more.

On Saturday, Buckshot seemed to be okay as we started our walking warm up. After the twenty minutes walking warm up, in which he occasionally thought standing still was just fine, he trotted okay. However, during one trot along the arena’s long side, I felt his energy, but I also felt something else, something hard to identify. Was he backwards, putting his feet in the wrong sequence? He didn’t feel out of balance, he had a rhythm to his gait, but it felt different. After the BO/instructor came into the arena and watched all of us riders warm up, she said to me, “Buckshot looks uncomfortable, like something in his hind legs is bothering him. Would you like to ride another horse, perhaps Smarty (a five year old reining horse owned by the BOHusband)?”

I didn’t know what to do. I was a bit worried about Buckshot, and didn’t want to just hop off of him and trade him in for a younger horse. I felt a bit guilty about that. But, then again, if something was wrong, I didn’t want to ride him and make it worse. So I dismounted and walked him around, trying to lead him and watch his hind legs at the same time. I saw some paddling, where he swings one leg out a bit far, which he has done from time to time. So I agreed to the change and took him to the barn to untack him and walk him back to his pasture, feeling a bit worried, and in my worried state, wondering if I should get on a non-school horse who is very young, but is doing very well being ridden by his owner.

I decided to do it; to put Buckshot’s condition totally out of my mind at least for as long as I rode a different horse. I have ridden Smarty before, but for just five minutes or so, a few times shortly after he arrived at the barn last year. This would be riding him in a class. We got him tacked up, and I got on him, knowing I was feeling less confident than when I ride Buckshot, but also calling up all of my knowledge and riding skills, remembering that this horse rides in a curb bit with shanks (while Buckshot uses a snaffle bit without shanks) and that this horse neck reins (which I have been doing quite a bit on Buckshot, although with a snaffle bit).

Once on Smarty, I immediately felt his youthful power and energy, not that he moved in any way that was too fast or bad, just a strength about him. It felt unfamiliar, as any new horse would feel. I began neck reining him and he responded fine. He turned beautifully, however going straight was not easy. As long as he moved in the general direction I wanted, I was fine. After about a minute, I tried out his stop, and stuck my legs out straight in front, saying whoa, and not moving the reins. He came to a perfect and quick stop. We walked on and I stopped him again. And again. Always, he stopped. Reliably. No questions asked. That is great, I thought, his stop is solid. If anything happens that I find I can’t steer him correctly, I can rely on his stop.

He and I proceeded through the rest of the class in the arena, doing a pattern involving trotting and some cantering. I felt about 25 percent capable, compared to feeling 99 percent capable on Buckshot. I got him to trot and it was so floaty and shallow (as opposed to Buckshot’s big, deep trot) I felt like I could sit the trot and didn’t need to post. I didn’t get him to canter but it was probably due to my miscues rather than the horse. We then went on the trail, and he did fine. He walked fast and wanted to stay too close to the horse in front of us, so I stopped him quite a few times to just let the horse in front of us move a few feet out. I found that sometimes all I did was move my toes out front two or three inches, and didn’t even say “whoa” and Smarty stopped. It was amazing, like he had eyes in the side of his head, always watching my toes! If my toes moved forward, he stopped.

In the back of my mind, I was so full of thoughts- have to ride this horse well, he doesn’t know me, don’t forget you must use neck reining with him, keep the reins loose as that is how he works, can always stop him well. But I didn’t know how he would spook, and that thought flitted through my mind. It’s funny, since a spook is by definition an unpredictable movement of the horse, but I kind of know what kinds of things will cause Buckshot to spook, and how he will spook. He’ll either stop with the flayed front feet, or jump six feet and stop. I feel confident in handling whatever he might do, and recovering quickly. But with an unfamiliar horse (and a very young one) I didn’t know what he might do if he spooked. I thought quickly through all of the trail and arena rides I had observed the BOH ride him and realized that I really hadn’t seen him spook much, if at all. So I calmed myself that he wasn’t a spooky horse and that needn’t worry me.

It was funny to ride a different horse for a change. After over five years of riding a variety of school horses, I got my own horse three and a half years ago, and one thing I love, love, love about having Buckshot is getting to ride him exclusively. I have loved the relationship you build and the familiarity and comfort of riding one horse a lot. Until I got onto Smarty, I had forgotten how wonderful it is to really know the horse you are riding, to feel that sense of familiarity and hours in the saddle together and witnessing one horse’s personality over a long time. I had forgotten, but Smarty reminded me. It was fun, and it was a good experience to ride a different horse for a change. But the benefits don’t compare to the cozy, trusted familiarity of Buckshot.

After the ride, the BO complimented me on riding Smarty. It was one of those moments that I felt I hadn’t done very well at all, my mind was so filled with all the details to remember of how to ride this horse and to manage the sense of unfamiliarity, and to not forget he had a shanked bit on so that I wouldn’t accidently pull it thinking it was a snaffle (I didn’t), and a slight, back of the mind worry about Buckshot, that I had never really truly relaxed on the ride (the way I can relax on Buckshot). Maybe another day, I’ll ride Smarty and enjoy it more.

I thanked Smarty’s owner profusely for lending him to me and complimented him on Smarty’s talents, for I did feel very grateful to be offered such a high-caliber horse. His owner said I could ride him again, which I internally took as a great compliment, thinking that if he hadn’t liked my riding, he (understandably) wouldn’t want me to ride him again. It all reminded me of a friend loaning you their car, but theirs is a Mercedes (and mine is a Hyandai, really) and I am so nervous about driving such an expensive car that I am very, very careful with it.

Back to Buckshot. I wondered why he was uncomfortable. At his age (appx 25 years) I know that he could have arthritis at any time. He worked hard as a track pony for many years. I think my riding him is typically not very hard work, but I do ask work of him occasionally, and when we go to the reining clinics, he does what I would call moderate work. But overall, I would say he does fairly light work with me. Still, I want to watch for any physical problems given his age.

Now, here is something curious. When I went up to his pasture to feed him later, I saw him do a half-hearted double barrel kick with his hind legs to his pasturemate. I have never seen him kick or attempt to kick another horse ever. Which isn’t to say it couldn’t happen. But I saw this one. Lucky, his pasturemate, got out of the way. No contact was made. I wondered later if one of the horses could be uncomfortable or hurting in some way, and thus causing more aggression in the pasture, thus the kicking I saw Buckshot do. I’ll keep it in mind and watch both horses more closely to see if anything else seems different about their relationship. Just a thought.

On Sunday, I went back to the barn and found Buckshot to be in a good mood. I planned to ride him, hoping he was better. Because it was supposed to hit the low 80’s in temperature, I planned to stay at the walk and trot. The warm up walk was quite good; Buckshot was very responsive. At the trot he did very well also. At his request to go on an adventure outside the arena, we walked and trotted in various grassy areas, and then, on a whim, I started us down the farm road. We got just a few yards down the road when I saw the BO and BOH (on Smarty) enter the arena so I headed Buckshot over to the arena and we rode with them. After a few minutes we all headed down the trail, and came to the reining arena.

The footing looked a little soft to me, so while the other two riders entered the arena and started working on their respective exercises, I kept Buckshot on the outside perimeter of the arena, in the grass. I started trotting and he communicated a feeling of enthusiasm to me – he was enjoying himself! That made me feel wonderful! After going around the perimeter once, I stopped and turned him around to go back in the other direction. He again started off with an easy, and dare I say, joyful energy. After rounding a corner, he picked up the canter on his own! I glanced at the BO who was watching us and I said, He did that on his own. How does he look? She said he looked fine. So I let him canter for several more strides and then resumed the trot. Although I hadn’t planned to canter, I was so glad he felt like doing it! It meant he felt good. What a relief to me. We walked and trotted some more, and then I asked him to canter. He did pretty well at it, although at one point, one of his feet slipped a bit on the dirt/mud. I brought him to the walk and we didn’t do any more trotting or cantering. But I was so glad that he was doing much better than Saturday.

We continued on another trail for a time and then walked down the farm road to the main arena. I told Buckshot that we were almost done, and that I’d dismount in the arena. He walked right into the arena, walked to the center, and stopped decisively, ready for my dismount. I know he knows English, especially the word “dismount!” Other than “treat,” “dismount” is probably his favorite word! LOL!

Of course, I dismounted and praised him for his very good work, also telling him I was glad he felt much better than Saturday. I untacked him, gave him his post-ride treats, rubbed him well with a curry comb (he was a little sweaty) and walked my wonderful horse back to his pasture.

Between the weather and the unidentified issue with Buckshot on Saturday, it was a semi-beautiful weekend – but overall quite good!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Early October Weekend Rides

I took off last Friday from work and went out to the barn to see Buckshot. It was a sunny, warm day, and as I approached his pasture, I couldn’t see either Buckshot or Lucky. Where were they? I had my training stick with me (the kind used by Parelli, but mine was a knockoff brand) to use for a special purpose. I went out to the persimmon tree that is on the fence line between Buckshot’s and the adjoining pasture, and using the stick, I reached up and knocked down some ripe persimmons. Gathering some in my hand, I walked further out in the pasture looking for the two missing horses. Just then Buckshot walked around from behind two tall downed trees. Buckshot! I called joyfully. He looked at me and then scooted forward, as Lucky came cantering out from behind the same trees! He cantered down to his stall. Perhaps I had scared Lucky when I called out. I’ll be careful not to call out like that too suddenly in the future. Buckshot walked over to me and I gave him the persimmons. He loves them! We then walked back to the tree and with his supervision (That one! No, that one! And that one, too!) I dislodged some more of the fruit and he picked them up from the ground. This is the best use of the training stick – getting fruit from this tree!

Later, I groomed Buckshot and we went into the arena, the farm quiet with no one else around. We did patterns and exercises, and he had alternating good energy, then low energy. A few times we stopped for a break and Buckshot immediately started moseying toward the open gate. So, he isn’t tired, I concluded. Twice I trotted him right out of the gate (to his delight) and we trotted around outside the arena on the grassy surface. He seemed to like trotting all around the new sections. The air was thick with bugs and no-see-ums so we didn’t try the trail.

Later after a good 1 ½ hour ride, I dismounted, praised him and took him to untack. I gave him a medicated shampoo bath. An hour later, when I was at his pasture to feed the horses, I gave him and Lucky their grain, and as they ate, put out two flakes of hay for each in their individual piles. Buckshot finished his grain, came out of his stall, walked toward his hay pile, and, instead of eating, began sniffing for a place to roll. I stood and watched as he rolled. When he rolled to one side, his head landed right on his hay flakes and it looked like he had a hay pillow under his head! It was so funny! I imagine if horses used pillows, they would want hay pillows, don’t you think?

On Saturday, the weather turned autumn-like, with temperatures in the 60’s, along with sunshine. We had a good two hour ride which included our walking warm up, patterns, trotting and some cantering, along with a trail ride to the other arena. We couldn’t walk in the arena as it was too soft from rain, so we trotted around the perimeter of the arena. It was a good ride. However, after I dismounted and was praising Buckshot for his work, I gave him a treat from my pocket and he got quite mouthy and nipped my arm. I smacked him, but later realized that in recent weeks he had been getting more pushy about those after-dismounting treats. I needed to make a change to end the nipping.

The farm had two overnighter horses I helped with, beautiful palomino quarter horses. It’s fun to see the overnighters who come and spend the night at the farm. There are some beautiful horses. Once a Wells Fargo coach team stayed over on their way to a major dressage show. They have a super impressive trailer for those horses! And beautiful horses as well.

On Sunday, the weather was cool, in the high fifties, and quite cloudy. I had reviewed my canter aid notes before going to the barn because I wanted to work on the canter. Since I cannot yet tell what lead I am on from my seat movement, I decided to try the other method of telling: glancing down to the horse’s point of shoulder.

The farm was quiet and only the BO was around. The footing in the arena was perfect. The air was cool. I was ready to really work on the canter. I got Buckshot from his pasture, groomed him, and we headed out to the arena. He had good energy during the warm up and at the walk and trot. But, surprisingly, when we cantered he was not his usual self. He seemed confused, a bit lethargic and broke gait much more than normal. Was it me, giving bad aids? Was he just not up to cantering yet? We had done our normal twenty minute warm up. During one canter, I glanced down at his shoulders and realized that his mane was in the way and I couldn’t tell at all which shoulder was reaching out further! I will need to braid the back part of his mane to be able to read his shoulder points! Oh, well, that goal was a bust.

But his cantering, overall, was poor. In between cantering, I trotted him and he had wonderful energy and enthusiasm at the trot. So I didn’t think he was lame. There wasn’t anyone around to ask to watch Buckshot canter. So after five canter attempts, of which four were just okay, and one was not bad, I figured he was having an off-day cantering. I had never known Buckshot to not try his best at the canter. So I didn’t think he was not trying or not being cooperative. I think it was just an off day. I had ridden him much more in recent days so maybe he needed a break from it. Anyway, I decided to stick to the walk and trot and go to plan B.

I dismounted, walked to and opened the gate, and got back on him. I rode him over to the beginning of the trail and onto the trail we went – with Buckshot being very willing! Inside, I was thrilled that he was fine going on the trail by ourselves. So on we went, with me talking to him more than normal (just in case he was worried, I wanted my lighthearted voice and words to offer him reassurance).

I thought of names for the various parts of the trail, like Potty Avenue (a favorite stretch for the horses to go….), Farm Creek Bridge, Magical Tree Avenue (a section with extremely tall trees that let in the most lovely dappled sunlight), Bluff Road (off to the left you can see the top of the bluff), etc. And on we went, I was thrilled and Buckshot was cooperative. Then we came to a sharp uphill section, which I named Mountain Road, since it is a bit like going up a mountain. Buckshot pulled himself up this section ( I think it is his least favorite section of the trail), and we went on about another twenty yards. Then he stopped and seemed uncertain. I squeezed his sides and said “walk on, Buckshot.” He took one step forward and one step sideways. I got him pointed in the correct direction, squeezed again and said “walk on, Buckshot.” He took one step forward and one step sideways and then we were turned around backwards.

I knew we had reached the end of his comfort zone. We had gone much, much farther on the trail than before, so this was real progress. So without any further asking, I said, yes, let’s turn around, and we headed back. I praised him, from his back, as we reached the barn and the place we would dismount. I got off of him, and to prevent any mouthiness or nipping, I immediately walked him toward the barn. He was great, didn’t nudge me or do anything mouthy. When we got to his stall, I gave him the cookies in my pocket ( and a few other after-ride treats I always give him).
So, despite the poor cantering, we had a great day and achieved some small progress in two training areas: nipping/mouthiness over treats, and going on the trail alone.

Thinking later about his stopping on the trail, what caused it? Was he tired? It occurred right after a steep uphill section that could tire him out a bit, and we went into the trail after already doing work in the arena, so he could have been tired. Perhaps he hit a point of lack of confidence, partly because he was tired. I wonder if it would be a good idea to try the trail work before any arena work, and see if he is more confident when he hasn’t been worked. Up until the very last minute, he had been willing on the trail. He hadn’t been uncertain. But at a certain spot, something changed in his mind. I think it may have been fatigue, and the steep hill, and his normally-willing spirit just hit a wall and he didn’t want to go any further. Perhaps I should stop him halfway up and give him a short rest. Perhaps the hill strains something in his legs and it hurts him a tiny bit.

I hope that by hearing him want to stop, and by asking for just a few more steps, but then agreeing with him to turn towards home, that it built his trust for me. In a John Lyons book I’m reading, he says a horse cannot learn when he is afraid. So instead of trying to get him to walk on further, which might have frightened him for some reason, I tried to build trust and let us both head on back home, satisfied with the progress that we had made. Hope you had a great weekend too!