Monday, April 23, 2012

A Quiet April Weekend

This past weekend was filled with one day of beautiful weather, and one day of nonstop rainy weather. Oh, such is April! On Saturday, with comfortable temperatures in the high 70’s and sunny, Buckshot and I had a good ride. After grooming him, we walked to the arena, full of soft, sandy, perfect footing. I tucked a water bottle into the back of my saddle, below the seat and above the skirt. I made sure to give him a full twenty minute warm up. And after the warmup, he had good energy, and responsiveness. Last Sunday, I gave him only a too-short five minute warmup (my mistake!!) and he didn’t trot or canter well. Bless his heart, at his age, the warm up is the most important part of our ride! After it, he is willing and able to work hard.

We worked on the three speeds of the walk: slow walk, working walk and extended walk. Buckshot has been doing well at them. I decided to make it more challenging by adding collection to each one. So now we have six combinations at the walk: slow, working, extended, slow collected, working collected and extended collected. I am beginning to get the aids for each, so that he will know what I am asking for. I’m not sure Buckshot thinks I know what I want just yet. He’s right. But it’s a good plan. Collection is hard. Stopping his forward movement – slightly - with my reins, but keeping movement through my leg aids, is complex, and subtle. It’s been a long time since I’ve worked with him specifically on collection. I asked the BO if a horse can be collected at the canter, and she said yes, but it is a very advanced thing to do. I know it is well beyond my capabilities for now. So I will work on it at the walk and trot. We had a good ride.

After our ride, Buckshot was quite sweaty in spots, so I sponged him off a bit. It isn’t as good as a bath with full water, but I think it makes him feel better to have the sweaty places rubbed with a wet sponge. He’s such a sweet horse; I love doing things that make him feel good after he has worked hard for me.

Sunday was a cold and rainy day. We need the rain here in Virginia, so I can’t complain. I just got out my winter and rain gear and tried to forget that spring had already arrived. When I got out to the barn, I went up to Buckshot’s pasture to see him. He was wearing a rain sheet, and standing – semi dozing – in one of their stalls. I greeted him and stood by him quietly. I stroked his neck lightly and rhythmically with my nails, and his head dropped inch by inch. I spoke to him barely above a whisper, telling him we wouldn’t ride, but that I would come and groom him in his stall. After a bit, I cleaned the stalls out, and tromped through the rainy pasture to the muck pile. A cleaner stall is always a good thing for a horse. Even if you do it in the rain.

I went back to the main barn and tended to the chores you only do on a rainy day. There are a lot of chores we wouldn’t do at all if it wasn’t for a rainy day at the barn! LOL! I cleaned my saddle and bridle, really thoroughly, really using elbow grease for a change, and wow! They looked beautiful. It’s funny what elbow grease will do. I don’t clean them as often as I should, and when I do, I don’t do quite as good a job as I should. I think of riders who clean their tack after every ride and feel slightly ashamed. But I love my time with Buckshot so much that I cut corners on cleaning his tack. In a quiet, not-too-guilt-ridden part of my brain, it’s a trade off I’m comfortable with most of the time. But on rainy days, out comes the tack cleaner.

Then I gathered up my grooming tools, and some treats, and headed out into the rain again, back up to Buckshot’s pasture. I found both horses - Buckshot and Lucky - dozing together in a stall. First, I took off Buckshot’s sheet and took it to the feed room to dry on hay bales. Then I opened my tote bag and got a curry comb and started grooming Buckshot. He seemed to enjoy it. He has shedded out 90 percent so I didn’t need the shedding blade, for the first time in six or seven weeks. I brushed him with a soft brush instead. Lucky stood next to him, and after a while, I decided that I couldn’t not groom him, so after brushing Buckshot, I started on Lucky with the curry comb. Well, poor boy, everywhere I touched him and curried him, his lower lip quivered in pleasure!! He hadn’t been groomed recently and he loved it. Buckshot kept moving his head around this way and that to watch me very closely, but I explained that Lucky didn’t have an owner who groomed him regularly so I wanted to do this. I think Buckshot understood! LOL! He kept watching me closely, though.

After using the shedding blade on dear Lucky, I went back to Buckshot and combed his mane and tail. Then it was treat time! I gave them both carrots and german horse muffins. They were two happy horses when I left! It was a nice time spent with them, quiet and listening to the steady beating of the rain on the roof, enjoyment of the physical pleasures of grooming and giving treats, as calm and serene and peaceful as having coffee with friends. I couldn’t ask for a better time on a rainy day. Well, now I can go and read your blogs! I’m eager to read what is happening with each of you and how your horses are! Thanks for reading! (Sorry for the formatting not working - I think I have to learn about these changes with Blogger - how this new editor works, what browsers are supported, etc....)

Monday, April 16, 2012

April Weekend Riding Fun

I had a great weekend with Buckshot, helped along by very nice spring weather. On Saturday, it was sunny, breezy and slightly warm in the 70’s. As I groomed Buckshot in the main barn, someone was using a weed whacker nearby. I talked to Buckshot and told him it was nothing to worry about, but it got louder and louder as he came nearer and nearer. Buckshot became worried about it, and moved to the stall door, tense. It was really loud at that point, almost like it would come crashing into the barn. So I quickly hooked his lead line on and walked him out of the barn. We came to some grass nearby and he calmed down and started grazing. The weed whacker had stopped but the equipment was still on the ground so it appeared he would be back. I decided to tack up Buckshot right there in the grass. It cut short our grooming session, but I had done the critical winter-hair steps of using the curry comb and the shedding blade. We walked back into the silent barn, got the tack, and went back to the grass and tacked up there.

Buckshot was in great form on Saturday. After our warm up, he had great energy at the trot and canter. We rode down the middle of the arena, first on left lead canter, and then switched briefly to the trot, and then he picked up the right lead! Wonderful! I laughed and laughed, and told him how great he was! A little later, when the regular lesson students arrived, we did more walking and trotting and then we all headed up the road to the reining arena. Although Buckshot walked quite slowly, we got there and on the soft arena footing, he did great. Good trotting patterns where I tried to stretch them out to build stamina, good cantering in the big arena, and grazing at the nearby grass.

I applied the Endure fly spray to him this weekend, along with Equispot. The flies bite his sheath a lot so I put a little Swat on those areas. Later in the day, I checked the sheath area again, and saw that the Swat had melted and dripped down a bit. That is a good reminder to me to check after a treatment, to make sure it isn’t dripping or changing locations in a way I hadn’t anticipated. I think I will apply less Swat in the future, so that it won’t drip into his “private part.” That area can get quite dirty on its own, without my adding to it.

This was a weekend of my not thinking about what was causing Buckshot’s behavior. I feel badly that I missed a couple of obvious things. He had his hooves trimmed last Monday, so his slow walking on the road may very well have been due to his feet being a bit sensitive. I should have figured that out.

On Sunday, we went to the reining trainer’s farm for a clinic. After I tacked up Bucskshot, and we walked over to the mounting block, I noticed an unfamiliar woman with a long lense professional looking camera. She was taking pictures of the many horses in the arena. I said hi and asked if she was a professional photographer. She smiled and said yes. Wow! I thought, that is wonderful. Someone here has hired her to photograph them and their horse, which is something I secretly covet. I would love it if a professional photographer could follow Buckshot and I around and take pictures of our time together. I would love to have my special time with my special horse captured in pictures. I have never done it because it seems like it would be very expensive, and also, because equine photographers I have looked up on the internet seem to photograph competitions, and important horses and important events. I think they would laugh at my interest in shooting a pleasure horse on his home farm. So I have never pursued it.

But I was charmed that someone had brought this woman to the clinic. She was very nice, and offered to take a picture of Buckshot and I! I was delighted, and told her thank you several times, and offered to pay for her photos. She demurred, and took a few photos of us. I gave her my email address later, so hopefully I’ll be able to share them, and give her credit, on my blog soon. Isn’t that serendipitious, to run into a photographer at the little reining clinic I go to?

Buckshot was low energy during the clinic. He has had better days. I had to use leg aids a lot, and mostly he only trotted. I was dismayed. I decided I wanted spurs! LOL! Later, I realized that I had only warmed him up for five minutes, because the clinic started rather quickly after we arrived. Well, that explained it. He can’t do a lot without a good twenty minute warm up and I had deprived him of that necessity! So again, I have to stay aware of what is going on with him, and never ever shortchange him of his warmup. Still, it was a good day.

One of the other riders came over after the clinic and complimented Buckshot and said what a great trouper he is! Many people do appreciate him as an older horse. I want to savor that, and appreciate it as well. He has already given riders a lifetime of riding work, and he still rides his heart out for me! What a special horse! So whether it is my fault shortchanging his warm up, or a genuine low-energy day on his part, I want to be more generous of heart to him, and not be so demanding.

Do you have days like that, when you realize something important about your horse’s behavior, after the fact? I hope you don’t feel as guilty as I do……..

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Singing Horse! Really!

It was Saturday evening. Feeding time. At the main barn, which houses eight horses, two stalls were filled. Two elderly Arab wonders were in, having been fed half of their dinners a while ago. They waited for the rest of their dinners, keenly aware as the BO and I entered the barn. They started nickering, anticipating their feed. I grabbed their feed scoops and headed to their stalls. The first one, an elderly school master, nickered as I went into his stall and dumped his feed into his bucket. As I headed next door to his companion’s stall, Countess, a lovely gray Arab mare, nickered, and added a lovely melodic song to her nickering! It was beautiful- a nicker that stretched out, higher pitch, with a sing-songey voice to it! She was singing! Amazed, I gave her her feed and praised her singing! The BO mentioned that she had sung to me! Awesome- I’ve never heard a horse sing before. But this was definitely much more than nickering and not at all like a whinny. What an amazing thing to hear!! Did you know that horses can sing?

To back up a little, I took Friday off of work and went to the barn. The weather was perfect – in the 50’s, sunny with a clear blue sky. I got Buckshot from his pasture and groomed him, with his shedding winter hair swirling around me, sticking to me, going into my mouth and nose, trying to get the hair off of him and not wear all of it on me!! We headed to the main arena and did our walking warm up, doing lots of circles, spirals, and curvy lines, as a change of pace from warming up on the rail. We did some nice trotting and cantering, and then, I headed us down the road, to go to the other arena.

Buckshot started off strong and purposeful, then developed some uncertainty. I squeezed him, said “Walk on” and occasionally tapped his shoulder with a crop. We walked a few steps, then he slowed. We walked a few more steps, then he slowed. I was determined we would get to the arena and enjoy it on such a perfect day. But it might take some creativity on my part. So we slowwwwly walked down the road. I then dismounted and led him on foot. Again, he walked a few steps and then slowed. Then his legs planted. He didn’t do any other behaviors, just stood still until I coaxed him or praised him or begged him to move forward. At one point, his legs planted, I had an epiphany. If what I’m doing isn’t working – going forward – try something else. So I started leading him in an S-shape and his feet instantly became unstuck! We got to a barn that had a mounting block in it, so I mounted him, and headed him toward the arena. Oh, no, he said, we should go back. Smiling inside, I made him go in the direction I wanted. He twisted and turned, but after a mild argument, would follow my direction. We walked over some mighty nice grasses and he wanted to sample them. I didn’t let him, but made a mental note to stop there on our way back. A few more minutes and we arrived, finally, at the arena!

We started riding and had a wonderful time! Buckshot had great energy, and we even cantered longer than ever before. We did two whole turns around the large arena, with a good pace throughout! I was ecstatic! When we walked back, I was delighted to let him stop at the sweet grass and eat! I’m not sure why some days our cantering is wonderful and other days it isn’t, but this was a really great time. I was very proud of Buckshot.

On Saturday, Buckshot and I rode in the afternoon class, with four other horses and riders. We had a good time- nice weather and good footing. And on Sunday, after Easter breakfast, Buckshot and I had a nice long, two hour ride. We rode in the arena, and after other riders joined us, went through the woods to the field arena, rode there for a long time, and then returning home through the pleasant springtime woods. Even though my legs were sore, it was a nice ride and I had a great time with Buckshot. I hope you had a nice Easter weekend as well with your horses.

I’ve started reading National Velvet, which I picked up as a used book for sale at our public library. How cute it is that she (Velvet, the main character) had paper horses, that she took out “riding” and would bring home and rub them down after she rode them! What a sweet, smart girl – to make sure she brushed her horses after she rode them, even if they were paper horses!

Her innocence and caring remind me that I should never forget how majestic horses are, and how much a gift it is for me to have one in my life, and how wonderful Buckshot is, and never to forget the joy and wonder of riding horses, and the marvel to know them personally and to get to know a horse over time and love him and trust him, and have him trust me. Really, horses are an amazing gift to us. And now I’ve heard one that sings

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Riding a Reiner!

The weather was relatively nice this past weekend, allowing me to have good rides on Buckshot. On Saturday, Buckshot was a little low energy, but when we got up to the reining arena, he was eager and cantered with gusto. I stopped us from continuing on more because his chest was warm with sweat, and with his winter coat still on somewhat, I let him rest. After our ride, I sponged him with cool water everywhere he was sweaty.

On Sunday, four of us headed over to the reining trainer’s farm with four horses. It was a lovely day, and as Buckshot and I warmed up, a number of other horses and riders arrived and came into the arena. We worked on some reining exercises and Buckshot was enjoying himself, cantering wonderfully when I asked. Halfway through, the trainer allowed me to switch off and ride a real reining horse. So I took Buckshot to a round pen that was adjacent to the big arena, removed his bridle and saddle and took it outside the round pen. Buckshot immediately walked away from me and explored the pen. Next to the round pen was a hot walker and the horse I was to ride was tied to it. I carried my saddle and pad over to him, a small mottled dun horse standing calmly.

I greeted him with my hand, said hello to him (his name is Bandit) and rubbed his neck, telling him I’d be riding him for a few minutes and thanking him for his upcoming work. I swung the saddle onto his back and fixed the cinch. Buckshot was watching me and occasionally whinnied. I turned to him and reassured him that I’d be back for him. Poor thing, he was just confused about why he was in a round pen, and untacked, without treats, and why his person was over there?? I watched him carefully, to see if he was really bothered by this situation, or if he would be okay. But he did some whinnying, some watching of the arena horses, some walking around, one roll, and watched me, but overall seemed okay. Not pleased with the situation, but okay with it.

The reining trainer got a bridle for Bandit and put it on him. Then I took him to the mounting block and mounted, and started riding him around the perimeter of the arena. The other riders were doing various exercises with the trainer. After a bit, I squeezed Bandit’s sides and he jogged. Well, that felt different, such a low slow jog- a trot that I can actually sit!! That was nice. After walking and jogging more, I decided to try a canter. I lifted the inside rein, tapped my outside leg and kissed. He didn’t canter, but he did do a tiny bit more of a jog. It felt sort of weird, like “what was that?” Not a canter. So I tried again and did the aids. Again, under me was a rolling, weird feeling kind of movement, like a trot gone sappy. Well! I finally realized, that IS his canter!! We continued on, with my head saying, this little movement, barely above a trot, is his canter, but it feels like one tenth of the canter that Buckshot has. This isn’t a real canter, I thought. Wow. How different. So in my mind, it was, well, not very impressive, but I didn’t want to say that. By comparison, Buckshot’s canter is, well, a real canter, a challenging canter, a canter with enormous power in it, and this felt like a watered down canter. I like Buckshot’s better. Several people yelled that I looked good on Bandit, and I smiled and thanked them.

Then I rode him over to the trainer and asked if I could spin Bandit. So the trainer walked me through the steps to get him to spin to the left. I held onto the horn with a death grip with one hand, and used my other hand to direct the reins. And wow! Did we ever spin!! After three or four or five spins, I yelled whoa! And stuck my legs out front and he stopped on a dime. I laughed and laughed, amazed at the action, and also wanting my head to stop spinning. The trainer laughed also. Then he said, let’s go the other direction. So I held onto the horn with a death grip, and used the reins to spin to the right. Well, double wow! That horse was twice as fast and I felt like I was going to shoot up right out of the saddle, it was so incredibly powerful, I knew I couldn’t hold on, so I stopped him after about two spins. Oh, my, that was way, way too fast for me!! The trainer smiled also, and said, yes, that is his fast direction. After my braincells slowed down, I walked Bandit around some more, and then took him to the side, dismounted and put him up, thanking the trainer for the opportunity to ride him. It was quite interesting, but I have come to love Buckshot’s style and it would take a while to get used to the way reiners are.

Later, the BO told me I looked very good on Bandit, and looked very, very smooth riding him. I told her that he felt so different from Buckshot and less powerful. She explained why that is. Reiners are often bred to be smaller horses (much smaller than Buckshot) and have small, smooth canters and trots, so that they are easy to ride and so that riders look smooth on them. So they are like that way on purpose. Buckshot has longer legs than a reiner and so his action is more pronounced than a reiner. That helped me to understand why the horses feel so different. Then she went on to add more. In dressage, horses are often much larger than Buckshot, and they are in an arena smaller than the reining arena. They are asked to canter slowly, in a smaller space. They have to be fantastic athletes to be able to do it. I agree that is really impressive. Interesting about the different horses and disciplines.

I was proud of myself for riding a different horse, and for feeling comfortable on a strange horse in a relatively few minutes. That means my riding is improved, and that I can develop confidence on a strange horse fairly quickly for me. I feel very good about that. I also feel a bit guilty that I wasn’t incredibly impressed by the reining horse. He just felt so different from Buckshot an d the other school horses I have ridden (mostly Arabs , Quarter Horses, and Appaloosas), and because I am familiar with them, I like the way they ride. But it was a very interesting experience.

I went to get Buckshot from his round pen and he seemed glad to get back to his regular routine- eating grass, and getting treats, and having me pet and praise him. And my heart belongs to him, that’s for sure. He is the best horse in the world for me!

With the warm weather and fly season approaching, I have decided to try a new fly spray for Buckshot, so I bought a couple of bottles of Endure fly spray. I also bought several packages of Equispot, which I use on him once a week. Driving home with the Endure, I had to laugh, because how will I know it works better? Buckshot can’t tell me!! LOL! It’s like wrinkle cream - my theory is that a manufacturer of wrinkle cream can claim anything they want about their product, because no one is going to use it on just one side of their face to see how well it works!! LOL! But I can ask you guys- have you used Endure fly spray? Did you or your horses like the results?

Hope you had a great weekend as well!!