Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving Weekend 2011

I had a long, deeply satisfying Thanksgiving weekend this year. On Thursday, I went to my family's get together and ate delicious food and saw my family. I am more of an introverted person and don't actually enjoy parties but I go to them, or host them, to keep connected with my family. No one else in my family has a horse, so no one talks about horses. Other topics come up and get discussed. But if we talked about horses, I’d be hard pressed to shut up, probably. I’d talk on and on, if asked, about Buckshot, or anything horse related. But horses don’t come into the conversation.

Surprisingly, not many people even read blogs. If they did, I’d tell them that I am part of a wonderful group of horse blogs, filled with interesting, kind, informative horse owners. That writing a blog for me, has become much more community-oriented than I ever imagined. I look forward to reading others' blogs and seeing what is going on with their horses and their lives, and reading the comments of a group of committed visitors. I love sharing my own stories in my blog as well as reading the wide array of others’ blogs. This is what I’d tell others, but for some reason, not many people read blogs in general. Perhaps they read just a few, but haven’t become acquainted with a group of like-minded bloggers that they follow like old friends. I don’t do facebook or twitter, but from what I know of them, they don’t seem as interesting as reading blogs. Following blogs makes me familiar with others’ writing voices and perspectives, and getting to hear a sort of journal of their lives, a personal window into the lives of some wonderful people. So thank you all, for your blogs, and your sharing.

Well, I sure did go off on a tangent there! Anyway, on Friday I went to the barn. The barn owner and husband went out of town for Friday night to visit family, so I was in charge of the afternoon feeding and dinner service for all thirty horses on the farm, a huge responsibility that I take very seriously with notes, lists of feeding details, supplements, phone numbers, and carrying my cell phone with me all day, just in case of an emergency.

But first, I got Buckshot from his pasture and rode him in the arena. We had a good time, he was in a good mood with a lot of energy. The weather was mild – in the high 60’s and sunny. Quite warm for horses with their winter coats. Buckshot’s energy was different- I describe it as “throwing himself about.” He threw himself into trotting and some cantering, but sometimes his footfalls felt funny to me. He was eager to walk around outside of the arena; whenever I put him on a long rein he would walk very purposefully over to the open gate. So we walked and trotted in the grass outside of the arena.

I decided that we would stay in the main arena, and not go into the woods or the field arena because we were essentially alone at the farm, and the horses were depending on me to feed, so I didn’t want to take any chance at all of getting hurt. And we had a good ride in the arena. The footing was a bit mushy in spots, and that may be the reason for Buckshot’s different foot movements. At the end of the ride, he walked fine back into the barn, so I didn’t detect anything that alarmed me. Just an exuberance that perhaps needed more direction from me, and better arena footing. After I untacked Buckshot, he was sweaty so I curry combed his sweaty areas and rubbed them vigorously with a rag. I brushed him down good. After giving him his post-ride treats (cookies and an apple), I walked him back to his pasture and then turned my attention to the farm’s other horses.

A few horses get a mid-day grain meal, so I got it prepared and brought the horses into their stalls for the meal. Shortly thereafter, in late afternoon, I started feeding all of the farm's horses, with the help of the BO’s son. We finished over an hour later.

The next morning, I returned to the farm early to give all of the horses their breakfasts. It was another mild day filled with sunshine, extraordinarily warm for late November. After all the horses were fed, and had their hay, I got my tack and grooming equipment out, set up some cones in the arena and went to get Buckshot.

More work for us to do, partner! I said to Buckshot, as I walked him down to the main barn. My plan for our ride was to practice two particular patterns in the arena. Again, I decided we would only ride in the arena, not in the woods, to be extra safety conscious. So, we were going to work on specific patterns. We had a super ride, and worked hard on the patterns. Buckshot worked with great enthusiasm and try- giving me all he had, even if it wasn’t exactly what the pattern called for. I was impressed with how hard he worked on the patterns.

My aha moment came near the end of our ride. I was tired and I think Buckshot was a little tired. I was so proud of how hard he worked for me. I realized with stark clarity that my focusing on the patterns had made me a better rider. It made me focus on where to steer him, every step, and made me think faster, as I had to made adjustments and judgments very quickly during the trotting and cantering. It made me think about several things at once, quickly, so that I could gauge what he was doing, what support he needed me to give him, give him the right response, and then move immediately to the next section of the pattern. When we got off pattern, or I missed a turn, I kept us going with the new direction. Working on the patterns required that I think about Buckshot in little spurts- what’s he need? How to help? Steer him better. More rein. Support with leg. Turn broader. Steer. Steer. Steer. Ask again. Take that one. Will try again. Good work.

And the little spurts of thought prevented me from overthinking about other, unnecessary things. It made me react more, and let other things just fade into the background of my mind. Most notably, I didn’t think about my butt staying in contact with the saddle during a canter, which I tend to always think about. But I am doing much better with it and don’t need to focus on it. Concentrating on all the little details of riding a particular pattern makes my overall riding better, because it builds mental muscles. What an aha moment for me! And I was very proud of my wonderful Buckshot also!

Well, the BO and husband got back from their trip on Saturday afternoon, at which I gave a huge sigh of relief! We fed the horses and enjoyed the mild weather.

And Sunday was another lovely, mild day. Buckshot and I rode in the arena, and went on a nice long trail ride with the BO and her husband. We worked a little in the field arena as well. As we started out, I thought, what a nice ride on a nice day, three people on their favorite horses. Or maybe three horses and their favorite people! How funny! Maybe the horses do think like that!

I had a wonderful time with Buckshot and today, Monday, when I had to go back to work, I thought, it’s okay, I don’t mind going back to work, because my heart is filled with Buckshot-love that will hold me over til I see him again! What a nice feeling to reenter the work-a-day world with. I hope you had a great Thanksgiving, and maybe had an “aha” moment as well!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Heavenly Autumn Ride!

This past weekend I had the most wonderful, awesome, heavenly ride on Buckshot. It was a magical time- one of those very rare times that are unparalleled. But before I share about that, let me start with the vet’s visit on Friday. Friday was the day for Buckshot’s annual dental exam. The vet arrived, a young woman, Dr. L, fairly new to the practice of Dr. S. I had not met her before. I had Buckshot outside the main barn, grazing, when she arrived. I introduced myself, showed Buckshot to her and mentioned that sometimes he paddles with his left hind leg. I walked him for her, and she observed that it was a little noticeable but not severe, and that it may have been due to an old stifle injury. We talked about supplements for him- he only gets MSM (and Fastrack) currently- and she mentioned injections of glucosamine as a possibility. I declined, since it doesn’t cause a problem for him in our riding. If it becomes more of a problem later, I’ll reconsider it, but for now, I don’t want to inject him with anything. She didn’t ask for a flexion test.

I then mentioned that I hoped in the dental exam that no teeth would have to be removed. Last year, Dr. S removed a tooth, and the year before, two teeth had to be removed. I want Buckshot to be able to eat effectively and comfortably so I am so protective of his few remaining teeth. But I said that if an extraction was needed, so be it. So we (the vet, the BO and myself) headed into the barn and I put Buckshot into a stall. The vet got her power floating equipment ready and stood next to me to give him a sedative. Within a few minutes, he dropped his head. She hooked up the equipment that opened his mouth, set his head on the head-holder thing, and with the BO and I keeping his head in place, she did the power floating. Buckshot did fine, occasionally dropping his head to one side or the other, which we would then set back in place. The vet said he sure doesn’t have much of his teeth left (which I already know) and that none of his teeth were loose or needed to be removed (hooray!). She then removed the equipment and we stood watching poor Buckshot.

He stood quietly, then swayed a little to the side, then would catch himself, and move upright. Then he stood quietly, then swayed, then caught himself and stood upright. At one point, he started flexing his hips alternately, in a move that looked like he was dancing- it was quite funny. I asked the vet about his after care and when he could eat again. After I got the information, the vet asked if I’d like his sheath cleaned, to which I said yes.

I hadn’t realized it, but apparently when a horse is still somewhat sedated, it is common for the vet to be able to clean the sheath quite easily, so they offer this service. As a horseowner who has been regretfully remiss in this aspect of horse care, I was delighted to let the vet do it. So she got her equipment for this. She used a stainless steel pail of water, and had a plastic container of what looked like bathroom wipes, which I guess were wet with a soap. She donned regular plastic gloves, had me put his halter on and hold the lead line and she began cleaning. And cleaning. And cleaning. I asked was it bad? To which she diplomatically said, it’s quite crusty, yes. At which I felt horse-owner guilt. As she worked, and worked (poor Buckshot was oblivious to all of this- three women standing around discussing his private parts in great detail), she mentioned that sheath cleaning is a good time to check for bumps, as horses with a lot of white coat can develop cancer in their sheaths and penises. So I must do this myself, when the weather is warmer, and actually learn how to do it, to watch out for medical issues.

After the vet finished, and I paid her, and she left, I set up a chair outside of the stall and kept vigil on Buckshot. He came around very slowly. I wanted to talk to him and needed a topic so I embarked on a lengthy one-way discussion of natural horsemanship trainers and what I thought of each one. It kept me talking for some time. I don’t know what Buckshot’s opinions are. He was pretty quiet.

At one point I stood at the stall door and looked at him, and noticed something odd. The hair on his right hip looked weird – kind of raised, and wrinkly and unusual. So I went into the stall and found that his skin seemed mushy in this area. I went to his other side to compare, and there weren’t any raised hairs, or funny looking hair. I went and got the BO to show her, and she thought it looked like hives- large mushy patches on him. We found it just on his right hip, and a little more on his right shoulder. We continued to watch him carefully. At first he quietly got more and more conscious. But then he began pacing in the stall. I thought it was because he wanted to eat hay, which he usually does in this stall, but of course, we had removed all hay from the stall so he wouldn’t eat any until he was totally out of the sedation. So after a bit of his pacing- since he seemed quite lucid to me- I put his halter on and took him out to the grass to graze. He enjoyed doing that. He seemed fine, and since he wasn’t in any distress, the BO and I concluded that we would watch him carefully, and make sure no further hives developed. Apparently it was a reaction to the sedative Detomidine. In the past he has had rompum and dorm. This was the first time that detomidine was used. (I called the vet today and told her about the hives and asked her to put it in his records so he doesn’t get that particular sedative in the future. She said that sometimes horses do get hives from it and that she would record it. I have made notes of it in my records as well.)

The BO and I put Buckshot in a different stall, with other horses nearby, as we mucked stalls nearby. But Buckshot whinnied a lot (which is the norm- he doesn’t really like staying in a stall much, and will whinny) so after a bit, I walked him to his pasture and turned him loose. By that time, he was able to eat hay just fine.

Since then, I haven’t seen any clumps of quidded hay by him. Quidded hay is hay that a horse has chewed and chewed, into a little wet ball of hay, that the horse spits out instead of swallowing. It usually indicates that the horse has some difficulty eating hay. I watch for this all the time with Buckshot, since I know he has had three teeth removed. If I ever see a lot of quidded hay, it will indicate that he needs some extra help, perhaps wet hay, or beet pulp, or hay cubes, or something to help him eat plenty of hay, but in an easier to chew form. I have only seen quidded hay very occasionally, telling me that, to date, Buckshot is able to chew his regular hay just fine. When I left him Friday afternoon, about five hours after his sedation, he was fine, eating fine but still had the patchy spots of hives in two places. I had also noticed that he had a big scabby area on his neck, which the BO said was a hemotoma, from the site of the sedative injection. I put Tricare on it to soften it and help it to heal.

When I arrived at the barn on Saturday, I went to see Buckshot right away. He was fine, and the hives were slightly diminished. The hemotoma was still quite hard and crusty. He seemed in good spirits. I asked the BO if I should ride him the day after his being sedated and she said yes, that I would be sensitive to his moods/ capabilities if anything was not right. So I got him ready to ride, during which he seemed very normal, and we started our walking warm up. He was quite energetic, and seemed quite happy. Not anxious, not fractious, but nicely more than normal energetic. We did great- good walking warm up exercises, a nice short solo walk in the woods, back to the arena for some high power trotting (I said let’s trot, and Buckshot said no, let’s fly!)- he trotted gloriously strong and floaty. And some wonderful cantering! Then the riding class started and we went back to walking to warm up the other horses. Some more fabulous trotting!

The class did a precision pattern which involved a specific route of walk, trot, round a cone, canter, down to a trot, round a different cone, to a canter, to a stop and backing. I concentrated very hard on getting the pattern right, and steering Buckshot to the precise spots where he had enough room to go around the cones, stay on pattern, and cue for the canter. He did wonderfully! Or we did wonderfully! I was delighted and so proud of him! He was unusually responsive to me, to my slight aids. It was wonderful, and made me feel very connected to him, in a different, new way. He was full of power, and responsiveness. As we walked on the trail, after the arena work, I thought to myself- this is the perfect ride, I am so connected to Buckshot and unified with him, everything about our ride feels perfect between horse and rider. I’ve never felt like this riding Buckshot- so intertwined, so connected, with him responsive to my breath or whisperings of cues. And he seemed to be so happy also. And listening to me. It was wonderful, so perfect and rare. I couldn’t help wondering if the day after a sedative made him in an especially good mood. Who knows? Maybe on some unconscious level, my ministrations to him Friday made his trust in me grow a bit. I don’t know. But it was truly, truly a wonderful ride with him.

On Sunday, we had another mild, lovely autumn day and Buckshot and I had a good ride. Not a magical one like on Saturday, but a good ride. We mostly did trail riding, with the BO and her husband, and I didn’t work him at trotting or cantering much. But we had a nice ride.

I hope you have had such a magical ride on your horse sometime! Buckshot is just absolutely, the best horse in the world. In my humble, happy opinion.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Wonderful Accomplishment!

We did it! Hooray, hooray!! Buckshot and I did it! We went on the trail alone, all the way through the woods, and out to the reining arena located in the hay field, and worked there, and then back through the woods again! Alone! No other horses or riders. And Buckshot didn’t become worried or anxious or balk! What a good, good horse!

Many of you who read this blog know that I have been working on this for months with Buckshot- to get him to comfortably walk to the arena located about a half mile from the main barn and main arena. We have tried taking the route down the farm road, but without getting very far before Buckshot balked and quietly argued. But on Sunday- success!

Let me start with Saturday, for that laid the groundwork for what occurred on Sunday. On Saturday, a beautiful sunny, mild day, we started our walking warm up, about a half hour before our riding class was to start. He was in good spirits and showed an interest in walking outside of the arena. So I headed him to the trailhead and we walked happily on the trail alone, for a ways. No worries or anxiety by him. Then I turned us around and headed back to the main arena, continued riding and did our riding lesson. I was so proud of him!!

Later, I analyzed why the short trail ride was successful. I concluded that maybe, just maybe, it was because of when I asked him to go onto the trail. I asked him early in our ride, when we were still in our phase one warmup. And I asked him after I saw evidence that he wanted to walk out of the arena. I wondered if early in our ride, his confidence level was high. I don’t know the opposite effect, or why his confidence level would be lower at the end of our ride, unless it is caused by being a bit tired. But he seemed enthusiastic early in the ride, and I noted that.

On Sunday, the weather was perfect- sunny and mild with temperatures in the sixties. The farm was quiet as the BO and her husband took two horses away to go to a trail ride at a distant location. I got Buckshot – my new thing with him is to call him “pardner” and tell him that we are great work pardners together! – and groomed him, then tacked him up. We headed out into the main arena, which had lovely, soft footing. We began our walking warm up. I didn’t have any definitive plans in mind; I planned to play it by ear. After getting off of him to tighten his cinch, and remounting we started walking, and I just decided on a whim, to go for it. I headed him out of the arena and toward the trailhead, saying “let’s go see the trail for a while.” Secretly, I was excited but I acted cool and composed. Buckshot didn’t miss a beat, he just headed into the trail and we were off!

This is the point that my mind veered off into three different directions. As we walked through the woods, one third of my mind started saying “Oh-oh, be hyper vigilant – you are alone out here- if anything happens, you’re on your own. Keep watch of the woods, scan everything, and at the first and I mean first sign of a problem, you hop off of Buckshot in a flash! Stay aware, stay focused, you have to look out for anything and everything, and again, you dismount immediately if anything, and I mean anything, comes up. I’m hyper vigilant, hyper vigilant, hyper vigilant, you’re riding alone, you’re riding alone, hyper vigilant…”

And, another third part of my brain started saying “Now act relaxed, stay calm, don’t act like this is the first time you and Buckshot have done this, stay ever so cool, talk to him so he knows you are very relaxed about this – at which point I said some gibberish about 'okay, so now we’re on the magical tree avenue of the trail, cause this is where the trees are so pretty…. And now this section is called well I don’t know but I’ll just call it anything lane so I keep talking….' – yes, just act relaxed, like you have been doing this for a long, long time and it is no big deal. Just stay so cool and relaxed through all of this….”

And, as if those two threads of constant thought weren’t enough, the third part of my mind was saying “Yippee- -we’re doing it!! Hooray – I can’t believe it – we’re actually farther than ever on the trail alone!! Oh my gosh, this is wonderful!!!” Then, be hyper vigilant, stay alert, watch your surroundings. And stay relaxed, pretend this is old hat.

And, well, my brain was so muddled trying to handle all three trains of thought! In the midst of all these thoughts, I somehow had the brain cells to even think this: this must be how mothers of newborns are –ever vigilant to protect their child, yet finding some small bits of being relaxed through something, and yet holding both in their mind at the same time. I wonder if mothers ever get to actually relax at all….

Oh my. What a mental case I was. I did have the presence of mind to stop him halfway on the trail and give him a treat from the saddle. I thought his accomplishment deserved giving him a treat. And then we got to the reining arena, out in the farm’s hay field.

I walked Buckshot into the arena and we started trotting. He did great – always responding to my aids and never showing any signs of anxiety or worry. We did patterns and cantering and trotting and walking. We work on rating the trot, and he listened well as I changed from working trot, to extended trot to collected trot. After twenty minutes I took him over to some grass he had been showing me, and I let him nibble a few bites. Then we went back to work, for another ten minutes.

I was trying to act cool and collected, but in my mind I kept saying “We’re here – we made it to the reining arena!! And we are doing fine!! Oh, Buckshot is wonderful!! But stay vigilant, and act calm.” I was grinning from ear to ear! After thirty minutes of working, I walked him to cool down, and then we headed down the road to head back. The trail can be reached from the road, so when we reached the fork – to take the trail back or the road back- I asked Buckshot, which way? And he turned decisively into the woods. So we walked back through the woods again.

The minute we were out of the woods I stopped him, and reached in my pocket to give him another treat. Unfortunately I dropped it, so I dismounted, retrieved the treat and hugged and praised him so enthusiastically! What a good, good boy he was!! I was grinning from ear to ear, shamelessly happy with my wonderful horse and not caring who saw the weird lady with the huge grin!!

When the BO returned I politely asked how the trail ride had gone, and then shared our accomplishment with her! How giddy and excited and proud I felt. Thank you, my brave, courageous, confident Buckshot!!

This week will be Buckshot’s annual physical and teeth floating. I hope it goes well; I really hope he doesn’t have to have any more teeth removed (he’s had three removed in the last two years) as I want him to be able to eat as easily as possible. And the vet is sending his new assistant, so I will meet her. I am feeling fiercely territorial right now; I will let her know that Buckshot is my precious horse and I want the best for him, and all of his teeth intact if at all possible, and you better not hurt him, and …. Well, you get the picture. I’m sure she’ll be just fine, and competent. I trust the vet, so I trust his assistant.

I hope you had a great weekend and are having nice autumn weather!

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Long Weekend Filled with Horses!

I took last off from work last Thursday and Friday, so I had a nice long weekend. And the weather was beautiful! On Thursday, I went out to the barn and rode Buckshot- a wonderful day with him.

On Friday, I went to the Equine Extravaganza. At the John Lyons booth I had a chance to meet him and tell him how much I appreciate his work, his teachings and his horsemanship. I was thrilled to get to thank him in person, and let him know that there are horse owners appreciative of his work. He was very nice, shaking my hand with a firm grip, and answering with a modest, gracious demeanor. As I walked away, a little in awe, one of his coworkers walked with me, and she thanked me for my comments, saying it means a lot for him to hear such comments. I’m glad I thanked him. I also bought two of his books, which I am enjoying reading.

The BO and I looked at all of the other booths- we were more interested in the vendors than in the clinics this year- and oohed and aahed over lots of things. I didn’t spend very much money- I bought the two John Lyons books and a set of replacement leg straps for a horse blanket. It was a good day. In years past, I have gone to clinic after clinic and become exhausted from the walking and the listening and the shopping. Now I have adapted a more abbreviated strategy, and spend a shorter amount of time there, allowing me to enjoy myself more.
Oh, one other name drop- I met Jane Savoie also! I was in awe of her as well. I only talked to her for a minute and couldn’t think of anything interesting to say but it was a fun, awesome moment for me! I do appreciate that such famous clinicians travel to Virginia for the Equine Extravaganza.

On Saturday, the weather was perfect- sunny skies, in the fifties. The arenas had several sections with very muddy footing so the riding was a bit limited. We rode in the arena, and then went down the trail, to the other arena. After just a few minutes at the walk in the reining arena, we headed into another trail and then returned to the main arena. I coaxed Buckshot back into the arena to do more trotting work. We worked several times on rating; both at the walk and the trot. He responded well in both gaits.

He was in a good mood, so I decided to head down the farm road. So out the arena we rode. A few feet outside of the gate, Buckshot slowed, then stopped. I talked to him and got him walking and we went toward the road, and then, little by little, down the road. It took a lot of urging on my part, as Buckshot was uncertain about it. He walked a few steps as I squeezed, then when I relaxed my legs, he stopped totally. I said “walk on” and squeezed again. He walked two steps and stopped. I said “walk on, you’re doing fine, Buckshot” and he walked two steps. So it went like this for a while. I didn’t get angry at him. Eventually we walked further down the road than ever! When we reached a certain fence post, I stopped him (which wasn’t hard), turned him around, and – instantly, his forward energy returned! I praised him for his progress, and got him back to the barn and dismounted. Oh, I feared my legs would be sore the next day, though….

I do hope that I can get him to walk down the road comfortably eventually, without constant urging on my part. I want him to feel good about it and walk his normal walk. Next time, I think I will take treats and give them to him from the saddle as we go. That may help his motivation.

On Sunday, we had lovely weather again. We went to the reining trainer’s clinic. There were a lot of horses this time- about twelve horses and riders. We worked on an exercise for circling that helps to direct the horse to get the correct lead at the canter departure. For example, say you are working on the right lead departure, from the walk, as is the norm in reining (as opposed to the departure from the trot). I would lift the right rein up, open the door with my right foot (that is, lift my foot and lower leg away from the horse) and tap/kick with my left foot behind the girth, to get the horse moving in a circle to the right. Add the kiss when you are ready to do the canter.

I have forgotten what he said about how you are actually moving the hind legs in a particular manner that sets up for the canter. I think I want the left hind leg to move toward the right, to go under Buckshot’s belly, so that his right hind can, oh, no, that doesn’t sound correct. For a right lead canter, I want to free up the right front leg, but I am confused about what I want to do with the hind legs. For that, I remember the basic cue of tapping with my outside leg. Well, anyway, it worked well at the clinic and I’m looking forward to practicing it next weekend. When the clinic was over, I cooled Buckshot down with lots of walking and grazing, and then we loaded up our horses and returned to the farm. It was a great four day weekend for me!

Today, I imagine Buckshot is glad I had to go back to work and gave him the day off so he can recover from his hard work! Good boy! I hope you had a good weekend also!